Remember Piedmont When

Bill Ruth in his PHS Class of 1956 graduation photo

I graduated from Piedmont High in the class of ’56.  I remember we had a full-fledged cafeteria where you could order good hot meals. I entered the school as a sophomore and was kind of nerd-like and didn’t know anyone so I joined the track and golf teams, which was a good way to make friends.

But I also got lucky because I got to work with a great coach,  “Brick” Johnson, who was accomplished in many areas. Brick was the track coach when I was there, but he had been a very good boxer in the Navy, and then a great football coach at PHS. On rainy winter days when we couldn’t practice outdoors he would set up a table in the gym and teach us how to play chess. He also taught bagpipe. That’s how the Bag Pipe band got started at PHS. They say Brick got his nickname because his nose was spread out from all the punches he took while he was a boxer, but he sure made my education richer.

Our track team did very well. The golf team not so much, but we had lots of fun anyway; we’d walk over to Claremont Country Club to practice, and for matches we’d hop on a bus and ride to courses in Hayward, Orinda and San Leandro. Brick became good friends with my parents. He was even a good card player — they played bridge together regularly.

After college, Ruth skippered a Swift Boat in Viet Nam

I graduated from Cal in 60’ and did one year at Boalt Law School before I was drafted into the military. I served as skipper of a Swift boat in John Kerry’s squadron in Viet Nam.

In 1978 my wife and I moved back to Piedmont from El Granada, near Half Moon Bay, where we had been living. We moved here to be close to my parents, and my wife, Light, didn’t miss the cold and fog. The day we moved in, we had put all of our stuff in my Volkswagen camper and parked in the driveway. It looked like a hippie camper. When we came out of the house later there was a $50 parking ticket on my windshield! But I loved the neighborhood, and enjoyed jogging up to Dracena Park before the new bridge was built.

Piedmont people have always been there for my family and me in important ways

I have always loved Piedmont’s traditions. About a decade ago I met John Morrison, who was middle school principal, and he and I began talking about cars, which we both love. We are both collectors. He asked me if I would like to drive my ’37 Plymouth in the Piedmont 4th of July parade, and I’ve done so every year since.  

The street I live on has had a 4th of July tradition since before I moved here. After the parade we all gather down on the flat part of the street, the city puts up barricades and we mingle and barbecue. When the sun sets we wander up the hill to see the fireworks. Our street has always had a storied contingent of float builders. We won for best float so many times I bet people think we are bribing the judges.

Ruth at home today

Piedmont people have always been there for my family and me in important ways. During the Oakland Hills fire in ’91, I was at home and saw smoke coming over Mountain View cemetery. My brother and I drove up the hill to my parents’ house to see if they were ok, and there were embers flying in the air setting everything on fire. It looked like the end. But there was a Piedmont police officer on the roof of my parents’ house, watering down the shingles with a hose. He saved the house. I’ll never forget that. We still own the house today.

That’s the kind of spirit I see in Piedmont today. I’m very impressed with the young people in Piedmont. I used to see a kid skateboarding down my street regularly, twisting and turning his way down the hill. One day he stopped and we talked. We became friends. He’s a contractor now and engaged to be married to a French woman. He’s representative of the kids I see in Piedmont today. They’re smart, friendly and care about their neighbors.  

One thought on “Remember Piedmont When

  1. My dad ran track at Washington State and kept in shape with boxing lessons from Brick Johnson. I ran track for El Cerrito Hi. He came over to me when we had a meet at Piedmont and said are you Sonny Leslie’s son? He remembered my dad as a track man. I replied that I was, and after law school we moved to Piedmont and he and I saw a lot of each other.

    Bob Leslie

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