Listen to the Podcast of this story, here.
Embarcadero, I'd repeat to myself after hearing Loren Nancarrow sign off from a live weather report at San Diego's Bay. It was one of those words that stuck in my 10-year-old brain, popping up at random times here and there. Embarcadero: Strange and fun to say, it was an exotic word ascribed to a place I'd see on television that, even though I'd been, seemed like it was a million miles away from my home in Oceanside.
I stood at the door of his office some 16-years later, looking in at the back of his ball-capped head as he studied the computer monitor. I remember lurking for some time, watching him, thinking, what should I say, when do I say it? I was brand new to the Channel 10 team and following orders to deliver some paperwork to the weatherman my family and I had been watching for over a decade-and-a-half.
"Excuse me, Loren? I'm supposed to bring this to you," I finally said.
He didn't move. Silence. Surely he heard me, I'm no soft spoken gal. Is this guy going to be a dick or what? I wondered in what was probably a three second delay. Still with his back to me, he said in a deep, serious tone, "Who does that great voice belong to?"
Uh, what? How'd he know I'm a sucker for dramatics?
His office, the weather center, was three times as big as everyone else's. It was away from the others, too-- a segregated den right off the break room. I immediately liked it there. It became a shelter from the storm of the newsroom where I had assumed, with zero experience, the very important position of someone who'd gone on maternity leave. My first job in TV, at the quirky, independently owned KUSI News, seemed like child's play in hindsight. That was a place where you could learn and mess up without fearing for your life; this was the ABC affiliate. KUSI had been an incubator for an inexperienced chick like me, and then there I was at Channel 10-- TV land reality-- vulnerable and shaky, sinking like a turd every shift, so it felt. I hated it there. Undoubtedly the best (and most comforting) times were fleeting hang outs with the coolest cat in the house: Loren Nancarrow.
The first words he spoke to me couldn't have been topped; he became my friend within an instant. My whole life I'd been teased for having a deep voice. To this day people mistake me for a "sir" on the phone. Maybe it's because I was star struck, but I recall those words Loren spoke to me with clairvoyance as the first compliment I'd ever received for my unladylike voice.
Loren was just fun to be around. I found myself sneaking off to his lair when I had little or no business to conduct. He became my go to for feel-goodness. Sometimes he'd have to shoo me off so he could work. I couldn't help but want to be around him, he was somewhat of an anomaly, the most down-to-earth talent I'd ever met. Loren was loved by viewers, a fixture and friendly face associated with America's Finest City, yet, his ego, or lack thereof, remained unscathed by popularity. At the root of Loren's legacy is his kind, caring heart.
I've met some pompous dirtbags working at three different news stations in San Diego, self- important types who talk at you instead of with you. Loren was not that, never ever. We'd talk about his passions, gardening and the environment; I remember picking his brain about why mites attacked basil plant after failed basil plant. I wanted to know how to grow tomatoes in the inner city, too. We talked about the books he wrote, the writing I aspired to do someday, and our families. He spoke about his wife and three kids with a twinkle in his eye, even when he groaned to me once about catching his son sneaking back into the house after a night out. His home sounded like Shangri-La to me: With a modest cadence he'd describe their horses, birds, dogs, gardens and sprawling Rancho Sante Fe property. He was quick to say I could come ride the horses if I wanted to. For some reason, I was shy about ever asking. That, I regret.
Less than a year ago, when Loren announced that he'd been diagnosed with brain cancer, I had a similar reaction as others whose lives he touched. This isn't fair. Why him?
Over the course of 2013, Loren exhibited the kind of courage that few in his position could, or would ever be willing to. He kept a live journal of the last chapter in his life-- not to talk at people from the standpoint of a local star above this sad affliction, but as a fellow common man, offering strength and solace to those also struggling with illness. He bared his soul by sharing the inner workings of this difficult journey and in doing rose to hero status. He put all of it out there: positivity, skepticism, acceptance and reluctance. His candid musings brimmed with both humility and humor. Just read the hundreds of comments on each of his blog posts from nearly 17 thousand subscribers. You'll begin to understand how wide his reach and the positive impact he had on all those he touched.
I'd be lying if I said that I knew Loren well. But it feels like I do. Even though I only worked at Channel 10 for a few months, Loren and I still kept in touch from time to time on Facebook, which meant a lot to me. He knew, without conceit, that he was a big deal to many people; what sets him apart from the rest is that he used that force to make people, like me, feel good about themselves.
After learning of Loren's death last night, I went back and read some of our old conversations. One of the best was a funny message he sent saying how he wished he could come hang out with me and my friends-- that it looked like we were always having so much fun-- but that if he did, I'd probably catch shit for inviting my "grandpa" along. In another note, he complimented my new hair color (which I was totally unsure of) in the style that a reassuring family member would. In 2009, I wrote to congratulate him on becoming an anchorman at Fox 5, also lamenting that I missed the business, my repossessed car, and inability to find work. He thanked me and corrected my pessimism: "Hang in there and keep your hopes high," he wrote. "Shitty days aren't allowed, girl."
To say that Loren's life was cut short by a devastating disease is certainly true. But the bravery he projected through chronicling his terminal illness gave the impression that he would break free from it; such an embodiment of hope filled the depths of despair in others, and that's a bigger offering than anyone could have asked for or expected. Through challenging a cruel adversity, Loren drew San Diegans in for a hug. They squeezed him, and one another, back. In my opinion, that's a cancer success story.
It would have been understandable if Loren chose to withdraw from the public to carry out the last of his life in private, but he and his family forged a selfless route instead. For Christmas, Loren's three kids and wife shared their story on a video for Scripps Hospital, where their father and husband underwent treatment.
In it, they ask the community to donate funds for the building of a Healing Garden, so that future cancer patients and their families would have somewhere to enjoy each other's company-- not in the parking lot like they did-- surrounded by plants and animals, something that brought peace to Loren in health and in sickness.
The Nancarrows are a blessing to San Diego, and I hope with all my heart that they find comfort in knowing how many lives Loren touched while he was alive, and that the impact of his words will live on to inspire anyone who reads them.
Rest in Power, Loren Nancarrow, San Diego's best friend.