Cameron Beach would have turned 70 today. San Francisco’s transit system would be better if he were still with us. But that wasn’t to be. On March 19, 2011, he died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time of his death, he was a member of SFMTA’s Board of Directors, having been appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007, following his retirement as Chief Operating Officer of Sacramento Regional Transit.
On his 70th birthday, we want to share his story and his spirit with those who never knew him, and those who were among his many friends.
On the SFMTA board, Cam quickly won the respect of his fellow directors for his tremendous depth of knowledge and experience and his unswerving commitment to meeting the needs of the public. In an interview, he said, “I have always viewed issues from the user’s point of view. How is the passenger or the motorist or the person looking for a parking place or the bicyclist or the pedestrian going to perceive our action?” He enjoyed great respect from employees across SFMTA, because they knew he understood the demands of their jobs, but also couldn’t be “bs’d” because of that detailed understanding of operations and maintenance. With a lifetime of knowledge about Muni, starting as a young rail and bus fan, you couldn’t fool Cam, and he in turn educated his fellow SFMTA Board members in a way that was insightful and optimistic, concentrating on the possibilities instead of just the shortcomings. Everyone who knew Cam knew he was a straight shooter, looking for positives wherever possible, refusing to play “gotcha” games and deal in oneupmanship.
First and foremost, Cam Beach was a San Franciscan, believing in the enduring promise of this city, while certainly not blind to its shortcomings. He was born January 26, 1949, at Letterman Hospital. He grew up in Cow Hollow, went to high school at Sacred Heart and Galileo, from which he graduated. Growing up in the city, he rode Muni everywhere, and became a lifelong fan of the system, incredibly knowledgeable about its history and operations. Even as he built a career and raised a family in Sacramento, his heart stayed here, and he was delighted to visit as much as possible, and finally relocate. Going out on foggy days from his West Portal home, Going out on foggy days, he’d sometimes wear a sweatshirt emblazoned “Old School San Francisco Native”.
Cam was a long-time Market Street Railway Member who joined our Board of Directors in 2001, even before he retired from his job Sacramento. Early in 2003, he was joined on our board by Carmen Clark, another transportation professional with deep experience in San Francisco. It was love at first sight. They married at Grace Cathedral and took a California Street cable car to their reception. It doesn’t get much more San Francisco than that.
Though Cam left our board when he joined SFMTA’s in 2007, he never lost his love for the historic streetcars and cable cars. He recognized that they not only brought almost 50,000 people where they wanted to go every day, but they also helped Muni put its best foot forward to the public, something he believed was increasingly important. He was a strong supporter of increasing F-line streetcar service to meet rising demand, for the start up of the E-Embarcadero line, and the extension of service to Aquatic Park and Fort Mason.
As his many friends know, Cam loved buses too, perhaps just as much. That’s why Market Street Railway was happy to support Muni’s motor coach maintenance team in its restoration of one of Cam’s favorite vehicle types, the Mack buses he grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. We paid for new tires and upholstery, things Muni couldn’t obtain through their regular channels. Now that the Mack is completely restored, we will be asking SFMTA to dedicate that coach, No. 2230, to Cam, as a complement to its naming of the historic streetcars’ home at Geneva and San Jose Avenues, as Cameron Beach Yard.
To further honor Cam’s memory, we are inviting our members and friends to make a donation to help us buy tires for the very historic bus Muni’s team is restoring now: a 1947 Twin Coach dual-engine bus bought by Muni for the express purpose of replacing the Powell Street cable cars. The arrogant actions of then-Mayor Roger Lapham in ordering the bus purchase were met by the people power led by Friedel Klussmann, the citizen who mobilized women and men to stop Lapham’s plan and save the Powell cable cars. This bus and its siblings ended up running on mostly minor Muni routes, but still retain a potent place in history for where they DIDN’T run.
If you’d like to help remember Cam’s memory by contributing to the restoration of this bus, you can do so here, choose “Fleet Enhancement Fund”, and note in the box that your donation is in Cam’s memory. Thanks so much!
We at Market Street Railway are proud and honored that Carmen Clark today serves as our Board Chair. Her own decades-long commitment to better transit is reinforced, she says, by the many things she learned from Cam, and by his unswerving dedication to making Muni better. On her desk, she keeps a verse by Ralph Waldo Emerson she says reminds her of Cam’s virtues. We agree:
DEFINITION OF A SUCCESSFUL LIFE
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.