A Lot of Character
Chuck Thurman, 1954-2008: Former Weekly associate editor was known for his curiosity, zest for life.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Monterey County lost one of its good men last weekend in the passing of Chuck Thurman.
James Charles Thurman was 53, and long-time readers of the Weekly will remember him in a variety of roles: as an arts writer, a contributing editor, an arts & entertainment editor, and as our associate editor, until he left the newspaper in 2002.
I first met Chuck in the fall of 1988 when he and I got to together to discuss the local theater community and the general state of the arts. Chuck was a freelance writer, principally a theater critic. That same year I hired him full time to be a contributing editor of the Weekly, and he worked here for 14 years.
Chuck was smart, funny and ironic. Once, I criticized one of his columns for being too sarcastic, commenting that sarcasm was the lowest form of humor. I arrived at work the next day to discover a handmade poster on his office door with that quote. Every time I was sarcastic from that time on, which was often, he’d simply point at the poster and smile.
Chuck had a deep connection to this community and a great love for it, and more zest for life than most. He also was committed to this newspaper and instrumental in helping the Weekly carve out its mission and its place in Monterey County. Though never formally educated in journalism—he attended UC Santa Cruz and studied philosophy—Chuck learned his craft with an unrelenting passion to speak the truth, and to illuminate the best and worst of what he saw taking place around him. He was an energetic advocate for those less fortunate, and as a native of Southern California (Monrovia, in the San Gabriel Valley) he was determined not to see this county pave its fertile fields. He moved to Monterey County in 1976 at age 21, with his young wife, Jean.
Chuck was soulful. He loved poetry, film, literature, a good game of chess, and words. But he also loved a good adventure and challenged himself to keep his mind open to new ideas. In 1989, he convinced the Weekly to send him on assignment to report on a local nudist resort and its natural beauty. His story won a national writing award from the American Nudist Society. When he learned a Carmel woman claimed she could “channel intelligences,” he interviewed her and wrote about UFOs and spaceships. Chuck volunteered for assignments where he could do first-hand reports from the field as a participant, not only as an observer. This led him to write cover stories about being shot at as a soldier (by paintballs), being covered in acupuncture needles, simmering up to his neck in the hot springs on Esalen Institute’s cliffs, and free-falling from the skies above the Marina Airport.
Chuck suggested the skydiving story and volunteered himself, me and a few other staff members to jump out of the airplane so we all could contribute to the report. I’ll never forget the hug he gave me on the tarmac after the jump, his eyes wide and his grin large.
There was a playful trickster in Chuck, and that came through best for our 1999 April Fools issue, when his first-rate cover story announced that Fort Ord was reopening because the Army made a “mistake” in closing the base. That provoked a vehement reaction from many readers, including Rep. Sam Farr, who called our office’s voicemail from his cell phone early the morning the paper came out to say “I can’t believe how unsubstantiated this report on Fort Ord is, it really bothers me how false it is… ” The congressman called us back later that morning to recall his message when he realized he’d been had.
Many KPIG listeners knew Chuck’s voice, too, and his weekly broadcast of “What’s Up Chuck” was delivered to listeners with Chuck’s joyful prose. Chuck’s love of theater also was expressed throughout his adult life. He was an actor with the Unicorn Theater, GroveMont and PacRep, tech director at Hidden Valley, and a regular performer at the Carmel Festival of Firsts. His carpentry wizardry showed in several stage sets.
Some of you had the pleasure of experiencing his Murder Mystery Dinner, which he wrote and acted in with his trademark passion, and included local actors Carey Crockett and Barbara Schuler. Even his wife got in on the fun. Others may remember him from the stage of the Wharf Theater, where he acted and later served as house manager and technical director before joining the newspaper world. Chuck’s deep baritone belly laugh was a constant at the Weekly office.
Chuck had an appreciation for the absurd and encouraged stories about unusual local sites and characters. He introduced us to the pet cemetery in South County and took a road trip to parts previously unknown in North and South county, and Big Sur. Whether it was reporting on the blues he adored, the clubs, art scene, or gems of Monterey County as he saw them, Chuck was an important voice for the community who loathed prejudice and cultural misunderstanding, and mostly wanted all of us to get along.
That’s how I’ll always remember Chuck—as a loving man. I’ll also remember him as a devoted father. He’d frequently take his VW camper van and his boys to explore our rural areas. Chuck will be missed. He was a great character, acting or not.
Chuck is survived by sons Erik and Bryan; his ex-wife, Jean; his mother Beverly Thurman; his sister, Letti Jo, and brother, Paul; and all of his former colleagues at the Weekly.
A celebration of Chuck Thurman’s life will be held Saturday, May 17, at 2pm, at the Wharf Theater in Monterey.