Bud Wilson: The Mayor of West Portal
Bud Wilson was a well known face on West Portal, “He was a powerhouse
on the street,” said Joan Girardot, long-time community activist for
Public Utilities issues. “I always loved to collect signatures with
Bud because everyone knew and trusted him. I was amazed that everyone
would stop and talk to him, sometimes standing in queues to sign-up.
It was easy to get a hundred signatures or more in an hour.” Bud joined
Girardot’s campaign to lower water and sewer rates when he wasn’t
busy working on the other causes he continued to champion, even as
his health deteriorated.
Bud first became active in neighborhood issues after he moved to his
home on Ulloa Street near Laguna Honda Blvd. and learned of a plan
to build a rest home at 300 Ulloah on an old quarry. He and his wife
June wrote and delivered letters for his neighbors, campaigning to
convince developers to abandon what they believed was a dangerous
plan for seniors, and instead, build 13 single- family homes. After
a year of footwork, they learned there was a neighborhood organization,
Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association, that was devoted to
the protection of the neighborhood. With GWPNA’s help, they waged
a successful campaign against a powerful lobbyist and won, and the
13 single-family homes became a graceful addition to the community.
Bud became a regular fixture at those and other neighborhood meetings,
and became President of GWPNA, where he served as delegate to the
West of Twin Peaks Central Council, tirelessly defending his neighborhood
at the Planning Commission for many, many years.
Dave Bisho first met Bud at a Central Council meeting during Mayor
Dianne Feinstein’s administration, where they began working on a plan
to rezone West Portal. “We fought fast food restaurants and third-story
height limits on West Portal—and we won. Today West Portal is its
own zoning district, with limits on the the number and types of businesses
and the square footage that a restaurant can devote to take-out food,”
Dave said. Presiding over the West of Twin Peaks Council, Bud wrangled
with developers and a Planning Department that coveted the open spaces
and single-family properties in the area. He fought the City on three
separate occasions as three separate supervisors sought to legalize
secondary, or “in-law” units. He worked to bring sunshine reform to
City Hall, and chain-store limits to neighborhoods. He fought to save
Laguna Honda Hospital for seniors, despite massive opposition from
City Hall. He was on a first-name basis with activists around the
City. As a delegate to the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods,
Bud received the Coalition’s Neighborhood Achievement Award, presented
by then-President Barbara Meskunas, “Bud was an inspiration to us
all— he had more energy than people half his age and twice the integrity.
When Bud sank his teeth into an issue, no one could stand in his way,”
At a vigil held at St. Brendon’s in honor of Bud, Mayor Frank Jordan
remembered Bud’s energetic support for the project SAFE program “Even
though he was a strong advocate for neighborhoods, he never sought
publicity for himself, you can’t help but respect that.”
Bud was an animal lover and left his two dogs, Rambo and Suzie-Q,
behind when he died. He spent a lot of time working for animal rights,
including organizing contingents honoring the combat service dogs
who fought alongside the servicemen and women in conflicts around
the world. He loved to read the packet his wife June received as a
member of the Animal Rights Commission, and he was a “regular” at
those meetings, supporting her endeavors.
But it was the veterans who won the biggest share of his attention.
Bud served 24 years as a fighter pilot during three wars: WWII. Korea
and Viet Nam, including service as an Aide to Archie (later Major
General) Archie Olds, known an “ace” pilot from ‘47–‘48. He also flew
with General Clair Chennault and the Flying Tigers establishing an
“arctic route.” It was there he met Chaing Kai-shek. Bud was appointed
to the Veterans Commission by the Board of Supervisors, where he served
several years and became its President. He fought to preserve the
War Memorial Building for veterans and spent his last 2 years organizing
and promoting the berthing of the Battleship Iowa in San Francisco.
Most of the people we talked to felt that he took that failure very
much to heart and spent most of his time at home after that disappointing
vote at the Board of Supervisors.
He was 86 years old when he died on July 23, 2009. He contracted prostate
cancer three years ago, but his death came from a ruptured aorta.
He complained of feeling weak during his last week or two, when he
was hospitalized a few days prior to his death, his wife June told
us she thought he would pull through and be home in a day or two,
sadly, he did not.
One major surprise at the vigil came when Tony Hall began singing
“ I wish I was in Dixie,” which caught many off guard and wondering
why such a song was appropriate. Bud was such a San Franciscan, that
few knew he was actually born in Miami; his father had been from Kentucky
and his mother, who was a half Cherokee, was from Tennessee.
Even though he moved here in 1973, there was not a trace of southern
dialect in his articulate speech. And it was at that time that he
started his clock shop on the wharf where he met his wife, June, a
waitress from New Zealand who was working at the Buena Vista Cafe.
They were married in 1984 after he managed the New England Clock Shop
on Lombard St. In September of ‘84 Bud and June bought their home
on Ulloa Street.
“One of the greatnesses of Westside people is their independence,”
said State Senator Leland Yee at the Mass for Bud, “—independence
from special interests, political machines and parochial interests.
No one could tell Bud Wilson what to do or predict what he would think.
He had a moral compass that was pointed directly toward the people—its
the best thing you can ask of anyone, the City lost a major asset
and I have lost a very trustworthy friend. ”