Joseph Charles -- Berkeley's 'Waving Man'

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Joseph Charles -- Berkeley's 'Waving Man'

Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, March 15, 2002

 

Old age claimed Berkeley's legendary "Waving Man" yesterday morning.

 

Joseph Charles, 91, was a humble man with a large heart. He won national fame and affection for the simple act of waving to the passing traffic from the front of his house every morning for 30 years.

 

With a smile as bright as the yellow gloves that became his trademark, he often called out a cheerful "Keep smiling!" and "Have a GOOD day!" to the commute traffic on busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

 

Joseph Charles"He has brought a lot of joy to people," Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean said on the occasion of his 85th birthday, when he stepped out of retirement for a brief comeback. She issued a proclamation in his honor.

 

That was the same occasion when the national news digest in USA Today devoted one of its two items from California to Mr. Charles. In 1991, a year before Mr. Charles retired, Chronicle staff writer Carl Nolte called him "one of the Bay Area's best known moving landmarks."

 

In his 25th year of waving, a headline in People magazine proclaimed: "Joseph Charles, Long May He Wave, Spreads Joy in Berkeley."

 

He was featured on national television by Walter Cronkite and Charles Kuralt, among others. A city tennis court was named after him, and his gloves are now housed at the Berkeley History Center.

 

"I love people," he once explained to The Chronicle, "and people showed me they loved me, too."

 

Martin Snapp, a columnist for the Berkeley Voice and Mr. Charles's unofficial historian, called him "the most beloved man in Berkeley."

"He made a lot of people happy," said Snapp, who belonged to a circle of supportive friends, including Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger, who visited Mr. Charles and sang carols beneath his window every Christmas Eve.

 

Mr. Charles left his hometown of Lake Charles, La., to come to the Bay Area during the African American migration, drawn by work in the shipyards during World War II, according to Snapp. He worked at the Oakland Naval Supply Center from 1942 to 1971.

 

As a young man, he won acclaim as a talented first baseman for the Lake Charles Black Yankees, part of the negro leagues. He claimed he was once struck out by Satchel Paige.

 

Mr. Charles outlived his wife and two children, as well as two personal physicians. He is survived by six grandchildren.

 

Joseph Charles, 91, a Symbol Of Street Corner Friendliness

By Douglas Martin New York Times March 20, 2002

 

Joseph Charles, who became famous by being very, very friendly, died on Thursday in Oakland, Calif. He was 91.

 

Every weekday morning for three decades, Mr. Charles stood on a street corner in adjacent Berkeley and waved to each passing motorist. It made him a local legend, indeed, something of a national wonder, and attracted coverage from Charles Kuralt and People magazine.

 

On the morning of Oct. 6, 1962, Mr. Charles stepped out of his newly purchased white clapboard house in Berkeley and waved to neighbors down the block. They waved back. The waving quickly became a ritual.

 

Inspired, he began waving at cars that passed the intersection of Oregon and Grove Streets.

 

''At first,'' Mr. Charles said, ''people thought I was crazy. They called me a Communist and said I would cause a wreck.''

 

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But one person waved back, then another and then another. Some honked. A motorist gave him a pair of yellow gloves, and they became his trademark. He eventually owned 20 pairs, one of which is in a local museum.

 

He estimated that each day he waved to at least 4,500 people, nearly 1.2 million a year. When his right arm grew tired, he used his left.

 

''Keep smiling!'' Mr. Charles shouted endlessly. ''Have a good day!''

 

Of course, there was more to his life than waving. He did just that from 7:45 to 9:30 a.m. rain or shine.

 

He was born and raised in Lake Charles, La., and moved to the San Francisco Bay area in the 40's to work in the shipyards. He married his high school sweetheart, the former Flora Shade, who died in 1982. His sole survivor is a grandson.

 

Mr. Charles worked at the Oakland Naval Supply Center from 1942 until 1971. As a young man, he played for the Lake Charles Black Yankees, part of the Negro Leagues. He loved to tell the story about batting against Satchel Paige, the immortal pitcher. He struck out, but got a foul tip.

 

He stopped waving in 1992, on his 30th anniversary at the corner of what had become Oregon Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. For the last few years, he had been waving from his window.

 

''I go to bed thinking about waving,'' Mr. Charles said in an interview with CBS News. ''I get up thinking about waving. But now I don't want to get up. That's the whole thing in a nutshell.''

 

 

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