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Former Mayor Ron Bair dies at 62

November 7, 1992

Longtime TV personality had ‘a deep love for the city’

By Rick Bonino
The Spokesman-Review

Ron Bair, the Spokane television personality who left a decade ago following a tumultuous term as mayor, died Friday of cancer in San Diego.

A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

Bair, 62, the city’s first modern mayor to come from outside the political establishment, was known for such grassroots efforts as community centers and neighborhood town hall meetings.

“He cared very, very much for people. He was a real sincere guy,” said Tony Antonucci, a Spokane teacher who was Bair’s campaign chairman.

“He enjoyed every minute of it – although I can’t say I was always too thrilled,” said Bair’s wife, Lois.

The time demands of the low-paying mayor’s job and hostility surrounding a controversial business and occupation tax combined with Spokane’s declining economy ruined Bair financially.

“He had a lot of downs in his life, but that period (as mayor) was a tremendous up,” said Roger Anderson, a former city councilman who was Bair’s closest political ally. “He wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

“He had such a deep love for the city. Spokane was lucky to have him.”

Bair was born in Chicago, moved to Burbank, Calif., at age 14 and began his broadcasting career at a local radio station three years later. He attended community college, but didn’t finish because he was helping to support his family.

Before moving to Spokane, Bair worked in television and radio in California, Kansas, and Texas, including stints as a continuity writer for Bob Hope’s radio show and as West Coast news editor for the “Today” Show. He also was drafted and served eight months in Korea.

Bair, whose deep, resonant voice belied his 5-foot-5-inch frame, moved to KXLY television here in 1964 and was anchorman and news director until 1977.

He and partner Jack Dunhaver repeatedly finished on top of the local ratings, pioneering a softer, chattier approach that Bair called “conversational news.”

Using that TV popularity as a springboard, Bair stunned pundits by entering the 1977 mayoral race and defeating Councilwoman Margaret Leonard – the same year another anchorman, Charles Royer, was elected Seattle mayor.

Promising to “open up City Hall,” Bair said at the time: “I was moderate, honest and objective in my reporting and I don’t intend to change my ways now.”

Along with neighborhood activities, Bair led the drive to turn the former Montgomery Ward store downtown into a new City Hall and was a strong supporter of a major amusement center in Riverfront Park, once assuring a first-grade class it would be “like Disneyland, only prettier.”

But Bair probably is best remembered for greeting President Jimmy Carter in a rumpled safari jacket following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May 1980.

In a later magazine article, Bair said he simply didn’t have time to change before hopping a last-minute flight to Portland. “Normally, you don’t dress much better than that during an ashfall,” he explained.

Carter took it in stride. “Oh, don’t apologize,” he told Bair. “You look just like some of the boys back home.”

The truly embarrassing moment came later, on Air Force One. Convinced that the lavatory door on the presidential plane was stuck, Bair frantically jiggled the handle before giving up. A few minutes later, out walked Carter.

“What must he have thought in there?” Bair wrote. “Here he is, the President of the United States, and some idiot is trying to rip off his door.”

Business leaders weren’t laughing when Bair narrowly pushed through a controversial business and occupation tax at the end of 1980 to stave off sharp cuts in the city budget.

“My staff warned me it would be the worst political move I could make,” Bair said then. “(But) we were faced with drastic cuts in the police and fire departments, which I don’t think the people of Spokane would have accepted.”

His personal budget suffered more. The family tour business faltered as Spokane slipped into its economic doldrums, and Bair was hard-pressed to make ends meet on the mayor’s meager salary – then $9,000 a year.

In 1981, Bair announced he would not seek a second term.

He wasn’t able to find steady work here, and left town on New Year’s Day in 1983. “It was like leaving a child standing on a street corner,” he said later. “It’s not like Spokane needed me, but I sure needed Spokane.”

Bair lived in Phoenix and San Diego, working as a radio news reporter, an announcer and performer at SeaWorld and most recently as restaurant reviewer for a community newspaper.

In late September, Bair visited a doctor after complaining of back pains. He was diagnosed with cancer, which had spread extensively. “It was a surprise to all of us,” Lois Bair said.

Among many community activities in Spokane, he served as president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, vice president of Big Brothers and Sisters of Spokane County, an advisory board member of Morning Star Boys Ranch and a member of the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Spokane.

Saturday, November 7, 1992

From → KXLY

  1. Besides Charles Royer and Ron Bair, other TV personalities elected in that era included Al Swift and Rod Chandler, not to mention President Ronald Reagan.

  2. Good call. Locally, the late Chuck Cromwell (KREM-TV personality for three decades) was a City Council candidate in 1993. And who could forget Tom Grant (KREM, KXLY, KAYU)’s mayoral run against Jim West ten years later?

    Former State Rep. Alex Wood, before entering politics, worked for KHQ-TV and KREM-TV, followed by a stint on KXLY-AM.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. “Stay in the Winner’s Circle! On KXLY-TV 4 Spokane” [1964 print ad] « Spokane Television History

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