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Remembering Santa Cruzan John Tuck, Larger Than Life

Tuck was dedicated to making sure children were in safe homes for the county

Longtime local resident John Tuck died Feb. 18. COURTESY PHOTO

Longtime local resident John Tuck died in a senior rest home in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Feb. 18—from a combination of Covid-19, pneumonia and dementia.

Tuck was one of those who seemed much larger than life, and he left behind hundreds of friends and a lot of wild stories here in Santa Cruz, where he lived for more than 50 years. He was dedicated to his profession of making sure children were in safe homes for the county, but along with friend Billie Harris, also serious about acting. They played together in Arms and The Man at UCSC’s Barn Theatre, acted in Separate Tables at the Pasatiempo Inn, and in The Boyfriend at Cowell College. He was also the lead in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Staircase Theatre—where I saw all 14 performances and rehearsals.

Tuck was devoted to his community. He wrote a weekly column for the Buy and Sell Press in Soquel in 1970, convincing me that I could, too. After pushing from Manny Santana, he and I joined the board of the Cabrillo Music Festival, and Tuck became a director—and I the treasurer—of the Santa Cruz County Fair. Tuck and I emceed the Christmas dinners and worked with the Grey Bears for 25 years or more: We also bought the very first beers at the “New” Catalyst, Chris Mathews’ Poet and Patriot, Clouds, and Lulu Carpenters.

Amid all this, Tuck found the time to be fiercely political. He was a prime mover in saving Wilder Ranch, acting as an ombudsman to raise the necessary funds to hire a professional organizer. He got me into that battle, too, as a result of which I got sued for $121,000,000 for libel! Attorney Jack Jacobson further reminds me that Tuck was also a member and supporter of Community Bridges.

Tuck went to Africa with the Peace Corps and loved it, then served the Corps again in China. While there he fell in love with his second wife Ming, bringing her back here to Santa Cruz. Probably the fondest memories any of us have of him are the backyard parties that he, Paul Dragavon and I held. We called them the “¼ of July” Gatherings, and welcomed dignitaries like Leon Panetta, Henry Mello and Sam Farr along with local politicos like Bert Muhly, Gary Patton and others. In these and so many other ways, Tuck gave a huge amount to Santa Cruz.

His friends are legion, and deeply saddened by his loss. His family, Kyle, Jaala, Buddha, probably Ballan, and his former wife Sherry, miss him very much. And I do, too.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Murray

    March 23, 2021 at 9:34 pm

    This is indeed sad news. I met John as a young child circa 1970. My mother, Ida Murray, worked with John for the County. As a widow, re-entering the work force, my mom often told me that John was one of the few that treated her with equal respect. I recall many rowdy and “fiercely political” dinner parties as a child with the Tuck clan either at our house or John’s. I also recall the 1/4 of July parties that Bruce mentions. As a young boy, the concept of a pig cooking in the ground was really hard to understand. Being the same age as Bruce’s daughter Jennifer and John’s son Kyle we had some great times as kids at those parties. When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my brother and I quickly came to the conclusion that John should be the emcee at her memorial, a task he did with great finesse, style and humor. People sometime use the term “the biggest personality in the room”…..that would certainly describe John, and I will certainly miss him.

  2. Candice

    March 4, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    I met Tuck in 1987. I worked at Gatsby’s, and he was a Friday happy-hour regular. “A glass of your finest house red please!” Always a smile and a chuckle and a wise word or two. We shared our Canadian heritage, our love of Canadian authors (exchanging novels), and a love of life. But I was always in awe of him. His service in Sierra Leone and his evacuation mayhem, his service in China which concluded in his glowing love of Ming, and the support they brought to each other’s lives, and his service to the children of this county. He was part of a cadre of local men who I knew and loved well – they were intellectual, challenged each other, loved each other, and called each other “brother”. In 2002 I asked him to officiate at my wedding to which he replied (upon meeting my intended), “but of course, I would be honored.” To my dismay, but to the luck of others, he was once again called to a land far away to help with much more important duties. It makes me smile to remember him. To have known him. To be so lucky to have met him in my lifetime. Peace be with you friend. Say hello to the others. With love, Candice

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