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* * *

Chuck’s obituary in the San Diego Union-Tribune read, in part:

“Charles Anthony Valverde was born Feb. 12, 1935, in Philadelphia, to Charles and Della Valverde. He was the only child of an Army officer, and he attended several schools throughout the United States and overseas, including in the Philippines.

“In the Union-Tribune interview, Mr. Valverde said that books became his childhood companions when his parents were abroad and he was staying with a married cousin in Washington’s Olympic National Forest.

“With all the rainfall, I’d be inside reading,” Mr. Valverde said. In high school, Mr. Valverde played basketball, baseball and football, said his daughter, Tara Rettig. He went on to play football at San Diego State College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business in the mid-1950s.

“Before owning Wahrenbrock’s, Mr. Valverde helped organize the University of California expansion to San Diego, Irvine and Santa Cruz, guiding the start of campus bookshops and libraries.

“Mr. Valverde was a board member of Father Joe’s St. Vincent de Paul Villages and was a supporter and former president of the Central Library Friends of the Library.

“Mr. Valverde is survived by his wife, Teri Anne of El Cajon; three children, Chuck Valverde of San Diego, Tara Rettig of El Cajon and Tricia Valverde of El Cajon; and six grandchildren.”

* * *

Chuck would talk to me often on the sidewalk in front of the store. He expressed an interest in my work and on more than one occasion, after closing the shop, he and staff members would share judicious amounts of bourbon, possibly a cigar, and discuss San Diego history, literature, religion, or the street people that frequented his shop. Chuck’s concern for the homeless of his city was well known and he might have taken issue with me when I once published an interview with a former case manager from Saint Vincent’s and offered my own critical description of the facilities there. He did not say so. He did once, however, suggest I might have been unfair to the Friends of the Library in a piece I did (though I did not intend to be so) and he reminded me of a gentle mother lioness.

Chuck was a handsome guy. To say he appeared bookish is only an observation of his eyeglasses and surroundings. He always appeared to be the same age, roughly 45, no matter what his true age might have been or what physical condition he was in. Phlegmatic is a word that comes to mind, rather slow-speaking, a considered manner of delivery and always aware of context and to whom he was speaking. Never unkind (that I recall, though I hardly knew him fully) he would smile when he happened to agree with me on some crack at the expense of some writer, agent, or politician. In recent years he would alternately appear in pain or thoroughly free from it. He never complained to me but it was clear that he was often, at least, physically uncomfortable. Either way, he did not allow it to dictate his demeanor — not in public and never to me.

He was hardly the jolly bookseller, no Dickensian eccentric; if anything, he might have been the smartest guy in a Damon Runyon story. He would have fit neatly into any one of Raymond Chandler’s novels, and if Robert Mitchum played Philip Marlowe so well, certainly Chuck would have been convincing had he been an actor. To me, he even looked a bit like Chandler — if you squinted just a little — only tougher. He bought books from me at a rate higher than he had to. He could not have made a profit on these many and often sales. I remember him telling me, “A writer has to have his books. He’s not a writer otherwise.” On these occasions he would pay me what I needed and then slide back toward me certain books, the ones he rightly suspected I was loathe to part with. One of these was Frank McShane’s biography of Raymond Chandler.

When he could see that drinking was getting the better of me some years ago, he would not buy books but would talk to me for as long as I cared to hang out on the sidewalk with him. He never mentioned booze on these occasions.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine, a woman, came to my hotel room in tears. She brought me Lexapro, an antidepressant I had left at her home some time ago and said, “I thought you would need this.” The pills don’t quite work that way and certainly they would do little in the face of writing this piece. My friend did not want her name mentioned, but she loved Chuck dearly (thoroughly platonically, lest anything else be read into it) and she often brought gifts of cactus, orchids, and other plants I knew little about with her to the store. (Apparently Chuck’s knowledge of plants was more limited than I assumed and some of those plants were for Tonnesen, as it turns out). “He always treated me so well,” she said, then proceeded to bury her face in her arms on the couch. As to who comforted whom for the next several moments would have been debatable.

The senior Valverde had a facility for knowing how to connect people with whatever it was they might be looking for, and not just books. Over 30 years, I might have seen him at the swap meet once or twice but for the most part he seemed only to exist in the confines of his bookstore. And yet, an impression was created that the world came to him for miscellaneous information as to auto auctions, estate sales, 78 rpm recordings, farmers’ markets, cabbages, and information on kings or sealing wax.

It is hardly my intention to write hagiography here. I think I can be assured that Chuck was not a saint. He was simply one of the very few best people I know. I never worked for him and could see that he might be prone to impatience and irascibility. Those who did work for him would, at times, demonstrate a nervousness that might well indicate this side of Chuck, but again, I was never subject to it.

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Comments

Kathy Proofer Sept. 4, 2008 @ 2:18 p.m.

What a beautiful tribute, John...brought me to tears all over again, where I've been frequently ever since hearing about Chuck's death. Those of us in the San Diego bookselling community, and all bibliophiles who knew him, and all who became readers because of what they encountered upon entering the magical emporium that is Wahrenbrocks, mourn the passing of one of the last, truly great "bookmen,'' but even more, the loss of the wonderful man whom you describe so movingly. Chuck started me on my Edward Gorey collection over 25 years ago, and shared many wonderful stories about him with me as we added to my library over the years. Thanks for sharing your memories and writing such a beautiful homage. Kathlyn H. Stewart (Gargoyle Books)

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dgwillsbooks Sept. 5, 2008 @ 11:12 a.m.

Dear John, Thank you so much for this very beautiful tribute to our beloved Chuck Valverde, the godfather and dean of San Diego booksellers. We put a copy of your article in our front window. Dennis D.G.Wills Books La Jolla

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tlarson Sept. 5, 2008 @ 5:16 p.m.

John,

Fine piece about a fine man. My best memory of Chuck is about four years ago when I went to Wahrenbrock's for a Reader story. Judith had asked me to write about Sacco and Vanzetti, the anniversary of their death coming up. What was San Diego's reaction during the trial some 80 years ago?

I needed background, so I went to Chuck, who was gone for two minutes and re-emerged with three volumes, case history, biography, re-evaluation. I bought them and got the 15% off: "working writers' discount."

Chuck treasured our fair and unfair city. How much he cared about you also and admired your writing, he once told me. How did the word bookish ever imply pedantic or dull? Chuck was just the opposite. Books and authors excited him, and his place linking them to a community of readers is his legacy.

Thomas Larson

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a2zresource Sept. 9, 2008 @ 9:22 a.m.

The experience of wandering through the bookstore is part of the reason I became a shelver at the County Law Library for awhile, decades later...

Chuck once found a Calculus III text I needed at USD, retailing for about $75 on campus in the early 90s. He let it go for $7.50 and threw in the study guide for good measure. Later, his was the one place I knew I would find a copy of Tom Apostol's Calculus...

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