‘Captain Charlie’ O’Donnell dies at 81
By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“Captain Charlie” O’Donnell is remembered as an animal lover, volunteer coach and longtime Bodega Bay radio personality.
O’Donnell died peacefully Sept. 10 surrounded by family at his Sebastopol ranch. He was 81.
After being diagnosed with stomach cancer shortly after his wife Joan’s death last year, O’Donnell opted against treatment so he could more fully enjoy his final days with family and friends, said his son, Matthew O’Donnell of Sebastopol.
Born in San Francisco, O’Donnell and his four siblings were raised by their maternal family on Vallejo Street in North Beach. Although Irish by name, O’Donnell took after his maternal Italian side of the family, his son said, and late in life till attended gatherings of old Italian friends in the North Beach area.
“They’d go to Caesar’s restaurant, 60 or 70 guys that grew up in the area,” Matthew O’Donnell said. “He went every six months or so.”
After serving in the Marines during the Korean war, O’Donnell took a job at Grant Market on Market Street in the city, where he met Joan.
In 1963, O’Donnell became a manager at Draeger’s Super Market in Menlo Park, and both Charlie and Joan began coaching at St. Raymond School. Joan was the P.E. teacher and Charlie became the athletic director and eighth-grade basketball coach.
He also served as chairman of the Menlo Park Recreation Commission and refereed both high school and college basketball games, his son said.
In 1987, O’Donnell accepted an offer from his close friend Bob Bogado to manage the dock at the Tides Resort in Bodega Bay. The couple bought a horse ranch in Sebastopol where they raised and showed Tennessee Walkers. The elegant horses won several show awards, his son said. At times, the couple had half a dozen horses at the ranch.
In his time at the Tides, O’Donnell became the local radio personality known as “Captain Charlie,” who each morning reported the weather and made recommendations on fish purchases.
“He would report what was coming in and what was fresh. He was kind of like the Green Grocer,” Matthew O’Donnell said.
At their ranch, the couple was “parents” to several retired guide dogs for the blind and Charlie enjoyed “a very special relationship with local feral cats, turkeys, raccoons and skunks,” he said.
When Charlie became ill, the animals stopped coming around, his son said.
“But the day he died, the raccoons and skunks showed up on the deck. It was really amazing. They hadn’t been there for three or four weeks.”
In addition to his son, O’Donnell is survived by three grandsons, a step-daughter, a step-granddaughter and a step-great granddaughter.
O’Donnell will be remembered for his generosity, sense of humor, including what some affectionately call “Charlie-isms,” his dry wit and devotion to his family and community, his son said.
A private memorial gathering will be scheduled at a later date.
The family requests that donations in O’Donnell’s memory be made to the Ceres Community Project of Sebastopol.