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BART spokesman Healy to retire after 32-year stint

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  • 5/14 SF Chronicle
    Published Friday, May 14, 2004, in the San Francisco Chronicle Next stop retirement for BART spokesman He s been on board since trains started running By
    Message 1 of 1 , May 14, 2004
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      Published Friday, May 14, 2004, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      Next stop retirement for BART spokesman
      He's been on board since trains started running

      By Michael Cabanatuan

      One of BART's most recognizable icons -- a feature as familiar as its
      silver trains, the beep-beep of their horns and the transit agency's
      black-and-blue logo -- will head down the tracks today and disappear
      from view.

      About the time commuters are piling onto trains to go home for the
      weekend, BART spokesman Mike Healy will retire, ending 32 years as the
      face and voice of BART.

      Healy, 69, joined BART in November 1971, about 10 months before the
      system started running between Oakland and Fremont. Today, the system
      includes six lines and covers more than 100 miles in four counties.

      He's helped unveil the system and dedicate three extensions, explained
      the technical troubles that plagued BART in its early years, fielded
      scores of questions from the media on BART emergencies, accidents and
      labor strife, and announced hundreds if not thousands of train delays.

      And he taught first lady Pat Nixon how to buy a BART ticket. That
      occurred during a 1972 presidential visit to see the nation's first
      computerized subway system.

      'Mr. BART'

      Whenever BART was in the news, Healy was on the air or in the
      newspapers. His media appearances on behalf of the agency were so
      ubiquitous that Healy is known around the transit agency's
      headquarters as "Mr. BART."

      For part of his time at BART, Healy was also in charge of marketing,
      and he played a role in producing locally famous ad campaigns such as
      Henny Youngman imploring the Bay Area to "Take your BART -- please."

      "I've never had a dull day here," Healy said. "I don't think you can
      say that about many jobs."

      Healy, a graduate of Hollywood High School and son of a television
      producer, graduated from the University of Southern California and had
      his eye on a career in writing and television production.

      After a stint in New York writing for CBS radio -- he wrote "A Strange
      Day in May," the last suspense production aired on the network -- he
      moved to the Bay Area. He became editor of the twice-weekly Sausalito
      News, a job he quit soon after the paper's offices were firebombed in
      a labor dispute.

      Healy returned to Hollywood, where he wrote the screenplay for a 1971
      Paramount film, "The Dirt Gang." But after a year there, he
      interviewed for a public relations job at BART and got the job.

      Tried PR after writing

      He wasn't sure he wanted it, though, and agreed to try it out for only
      six months. After six months, he agreed to another six.

      "Here I am 32 years later, wondering where those six months went," he
      said. "I got so involved, so interested in what went on here that I
      said I'd stay until I didn't like the job, until the work wasn't
      interesting.

      "I haven't reached that point yet. I'm not leaving because I'm bored;
      I'm leaving to do some other things."

      Those things include playing more tennis, a sport Healy loves;
      traveling (he leaves for Ireland on Sunday); marketing a book he
      finished last year; and working on another book , which he describes
      as a crime novel and cop story.

      Healy has worked for seven general managers and dozens of BART
      directors. He's experienced BART's many ups and downs -- and talked
      about them to the media and public in his usual low-key, soft-spoken
      style.

      1979 a rough year

      The low point of his BART tenure, he said, came in 1979 when two
      incidents shut down BART service and left the system with a pair of
      black eyes. A fire Jan. 17 on a train in the Transbay Tube killed an
      Oakland firefighter, injured 40 passengers and shut down the tube for
      nearly three months. On Aug. 31, BART employees went on strike,
      shutting down the system for three months.

      "It was just horrendous," said Healy, who worked many 18-hour days
      through both crises. "A very painful time."

      But there were also a lot of highlights, Healy said, including the
      opening of the East Bay extensions to Pittsburg/Bay Point and
      Dublin/Pleasanton, and particularly the long-awaited arrival of the
      extension to San Francisco International Airport. Talk of that
      extension started soon after he began working at BART, he said.

      BART's Board of Directors honored Healy at Thursday's meeting by
      dedicating the podium to him. It will be installed in the directors'
      new meeting room at Oakland's Kaiser Center.

      Directors noted that so many present-day BART riders had grown up
      seeing or hearing Healy represent the transit system that they figured
      he ran it.

      "His loyalty, dedication and, yes, I'll use the word, love of BART has
      never flagged," said Dan Richard, a director for 12 years. "He will
      always be Mr. BART."


      E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@...


      [BATN: See also:

      Another piece on retiring BART spokesman Healy
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/16696

      BART spokesman Healy retires
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/15957 ]
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