Five years ago Al was diagnosed with a rare, progressive, neurological disease known as Corticobasal Degeneration. This disease started slowly, robbing Al of his mobility and then stealing his voice. Yes, the golden voice that graced the airwaves of KCBS radio in San Francisco for decades. A voice that was so distinctive it would cause cab drivers, store clerks, fellow BART passengers or someone next to him in a restaurant to turn around and say, “hey, that’s Al Hart!”
Two weeks ago Al turned 88 but this year he wasn’t able to celebrate. After nearly three years of round the clock care that his wife, Pat, provided with a team of caregivers who attended to him lovingly and faithfully, Al was moved to Bruns House, a hospice in Alamo, CA. At 3:55 this morning he breathed his last breath. “He died as his lived,” said Brother Brendan Madden, “quietly and in peace.”
That was trademark Al Hart, a bit unusual considering his success and reputation throughout the Bay Area. He was engaging and lively on the air, but quiet and unassuming off air.
I had the privilege of working with Al co-anchoring the morning news on KCBS Radio in the 1990s. Always dapper, Al would arrive at work dressed in a suit every single day except casual Friday, when he would make his jeans and sweaters a fashion statement. But it was his kindness that seeped through everything he did. That’s not a virtue often associated with broadcasters, but it most certainly was one of Al’s biggest gifts that he shared with anyone he encountered. He motivated all of us in the newsroom and beyond and demonstrated through his life that it is possible to succeed without destroying those around you.
If you hung around Al long enough, you’d get to eat his “Snickerdoodle” cookies, with just the right hint of butter and cinnamon and sugar that would melt in your mouth. And then you might get to hear him hum. That’s right, hum. He couldn’t sing out loud all the time so he would hum tunes as he wrote stories, walked around the studio or during commercial breaks.
For nearly 13 years, Pat and Al Hart have been inseparable. Al and Pat shared a love of music, jazz and big band, good food and wine, entertaining and relaxing at home. She found venues for him to sing, and joined him on BART for his trips to KCBS Radio, where he still enjoyed sparring with John Madden. They married in a small ceremony in 2010 and it wasn’t long after that Al was diagnosed with Corticobasal Degeneration which would change everything. No longer could they go on walks and travel and enjoy outdoor activities. And no longer could Al sing. So they would watch movies and listen to music and read and laugh in bed.
Al never lost his sense of humor, whispering quips, shaking his head, and watching every single Golden State Warriors game. His smile came from the bottom of his heart and when his lips could no longer turn up as they once did, he smiled through his eyes.
I was reminded by my friend Terry Conway, who kept Al and me in line on the radio all those years ago, that I once declared, “When I grow up I want to be Al Hart.” I’m working on it.
Al lived fully and loved deeply and was generous to a fault. If there’s radio in heaven, Al will have the mic.