A tribute to Charley Packard

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Charley Packard was a legend. That’s the easiest, quickest way to explain what he meant to those who knew him. When Charley spoke, you felt like there was nothing else that mattered in the world to him than that moment.

When Charley passed away last week, Sandpoint lost a great one. If you didn’t know Charley personally, you knew of him. He might have married some friends of yours, or played music with someone you love, or played jacks with you as a child. He might have counseled you through a rough patch. He might’ve been that kind man who always had a positive thing to say, or an old friend from another life.

Charley Packard at his home in 2015. Photo by Ben Olson.

Charley Packard at his home in 2015. Photo by Ben Olson.

I’ll always remember Charley for his kindness, his beautiful songs, his gentle way with those he loved. I’ll remember him as the one who always dropped too big of a bill in the tip jar when he came to watch me play music and always had a nice thing to say.

There will be a memorial honoring Charley Packard’s life on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Panida Theater.

As a further tribute to this great man, I’ve reached out to some of the many people that he has impacted in life and asked them to share a memory. Below is just a fraction of the outpouring of love that came back.

•My dear and valued friend Charlie became one of the great treasures I discovered when I arrived from Chicago to Sandpoint.  Our mutual interest was our music in all of its glorious forms. Through him I was able to connect and maintain enduring friendships with other performers in the vicinity. You might even say we all became a kind of interchangeable “house band” as it were in the area with our abilities to perform in various groupings creating an even larger family of friends.

Charlie was also a caring mentor for me during some difficult struggles in my life. His constant compassion never wavering and a blessing for us all.

Thank you Charlie.
Peter Lucht

•It’s a zippity-do-dah day.

Like me, Charlie lived fast and hard, and when alcohol almost killed him, he crawled into the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. His smile brightened our meetings, and his voice, gravelly with a soft southern drawl, reached into our hearts. A minister, he presided over our weddings and our funerals. Most importantly of all, he walked the walk, and shared how he had pulled himself out of his hellhole by applying the 12 steps of AA to his life, and how we too, could once again live a life worth living. He believed in gratitude, in helping others trudge the path to happy destiny, and in telling his truth, in any and all conditions. He lit up our rooms with his quiet grace, always reminding us that no matter what, we had a second chance, and that, sober, it was always a zippity-do-dah day.
From a member of Alcoholics Anonymous

•Charley and I go back a ways. We knew each other because we both played music and wrote songs. I’ve always enjoyed performing opposite Charley, with his easy sound versus our banjo bangin’ bluegrass band. We both crossed paths in the Newport Beach folk music circuit, around 1970.

Charley’s songs always sounded great. My songs always sounded corny. During one of our co-writing sessions he confided in me the story of the biggest money tip he ever received for singing a single song! (At that time $50 was a big tip). What was the song that was requested? A song named “Buck and Ednas,” one of my songs!

We both howled and played songs into the night. I look forward to writing with Charley again, but on this starry night, it’s sad in songland.

Until then,
Dennis Coats

•I first met Charley in the mid-’60s in southern California. We had a mutual friend {who} took me to Huntington Beach, where Charley was playing with Milo, who he made a record with. From that time on, we had an exceptionally warm friendship. Our relationship was characterized by a huge amount of mutual respect. We hugged a lot of 40 years.

Charley and myself were part of a group of refugees from California including David Gunter, Tom Newbill, Neighbor John Kelly and Dennis Coates. I always had these great conversations with Charley that left me warm, because he had an incredible amount of brotherly love and affection for all of his musical friends.
Ken Mayginnes

•I have countless memories with that man. It’s important to remember people like Steve Geobert, who owned Bugatti’s Pub where Charley was a bartender, hosted open mic night and was the house band for many years. Steve lives in Napa Valley now, but he came up last summer, and we got to have lunch with Charley. Also, Charley’s late wife Colleen was his rock for a long time. She mothered his children and put up with Charley through thick and thin —and I guarantee you there was a lot of thin. Thank God Karen came along as an angel and took Charley and gave him some really good time at the end of his life.

The story I’d like to relate somewhat epitomizes why we all affectionately referred to him as “The Reverend Charley Packard.” I’d befriended a lovely young lady at physical therapy who wanted to marry her finance, but she was working and supporting her handicapped daughter. The clergy wanted $100 to do the ceremony, which she couldn’t afford, so I told her I’d talk to Charley. He said, “You just have her get a hold of me.” He wasn’t the healthiest, but they came over to the house and he performed the ceremony. When they went to the courthouse, the clerk said, “Charley Packard married you?” I told them “You are very privileged people; you will be the last couple that Charley yokes together in holy matrimony.” He never hesitated and didn’t want any money. That epitomizes Charley. He was a special and unique individual. I think anybody that ever met him came away enhanced. He was a wonderful man and will be sorely missed.
Eddie Brown

•When my husband, Pat, and I came here to Sandpoint we were one of the first ones to come here with that group of musicians. Charley came shortly after, and that’s when we really became good friends. I’ve been here 43 years now. I was married to Tom Newbill in Laguna Beach, before Pat, and Tom and Charley were best friends. We loved him so much. He was just a good family friend.

I have four boys that are all musicians, and Charley was the most encouraging friend to them. He just gave them so much positive feedback.

Pat and I got married in his living room with his wife Colleen as a witness. He also married one of my sons.

My youngest son, Chad Ball, played at the tribute at the Panida [in 2015]. He was home alone one day and the phone rang, and it was Charley. He asked what he was doing. Chad said he was practicing his guitar. And Charley said, “That’s good, the world needs more musicians.” He never forgot that.
Sue Ball

•As we stumble, bumble our way through life, one of the very best gifts received is when young friends one day find themselves as old friends. When the good times as well as the bad times contribute to the development of a comfortable relationship that is always safe, always easy.

I was not a member of Charley’s musician circle but rather, a member of his life experience circle. While living in Wisconsin for eight years, Mary Ann and I would always seek out Charley when returning home for a visit. It didn’t matter how long it had been since we last saw one another, it was always the same: effortless and familiar. Charley’s gentle and welcoming spirit made me feel confident that our friendship would last forever.

As we, all of us, had the privilege of witnessing Charley preside over the union of two people deeply in love or saying goodbye to a cherished friend, Charley did so with such compassion and sincerity. It was inside of him. He couldn’t help himself. In the same way as a few other friends in my life have done, Charley ministered to me through his kind and gentle words but most importantly, how he lived his life. I will be forever grateful and thankful for my friendship with Charley.
Larry Jeffres

•My earliest childhood memory was of dazzling lights, dials and meters at a recording studio in Costa Mesa, Calif. I was 5 when my parents decided to move to this strange new world called Idaho. After a very long drive, we crossed the Long Bridge, rented a house on Pine Street and got a big red dog.  Thus began my childhood.

I grew up watching my dad play music.  I would often tag along, turning places like Kamloops, The Donkey Jaw and The Trestle Creek Inn into my playgrounds. I loved it. Sandpoint in those days was very special place to be, where kids were allowed at bars and the minister’s energetic son was always welcome at a wedding. But one thing was as true then as it is now: I had the coolest dad in town.

Growing up, everywhere I went, and whoever I met, I was always welcomed with, “Oh, you’re Charley Packard’s son!” The fact that he touched the lives of so many people was normal for me. It’s just what he did.

As an adult, I would perform with him hundreds of times. I’ll never forget the sea of thousands of faces when we opened for Willie Nelson. Or rolling music gear across a (sometimes slushy) sidewalk for another gig at Eichardt’s. I’m grateful to say I did everything a person could ever want to do with their dad.

In time, he would also become the coolest grandpa in town. Charley has guided and inspired all of us, now and for generations to come. In terms of one’s life, he did exactly what he came here to do.

As he smiles down from “Heaven’s only town,” the spiritual messages in his songs will continue to provide comfort in difficult times, like when we lose a loved one. Like right now.
Jesse Harris

•I guess my friendship with Charley started when we had the band Trapper Creek. Charley was a fan. “Our harmony was from heaven,” he’d say. My wife and I moved down to Nashville to get into the songwriting circuit there, and Charley kept in touch with me. We eventually began collaborating, but one song I had nothing to do with was “Give Me An Old Gal.” Eventually, I got in touch with a publishing house, Starstruck Entertainment, and they were interested in “Give Me An Old Gal.” They only wanted to change one word. They wanted to change “Give Me An Old Gal” to “Give Me a Good Gal,” which changes the whole crux of the song. I told them I’d get in touch with Charley and called him up. “They only want to change one little word,” I told him. There was a six-second pause, and then Charley just said, “Naw.”
Mike Wagoner

I’ve known him a long time. He will be missed by his by family and the AA community.
A member of Alcoholics Anonymous

•Charley Packard: 1,700 marriages. Think of that, Charley Packard; you presided over 1,700 marriages. No one in the memory of Sandpoint has been a more unifying force for love than you. I have so many fond recollections of your presence in our town that I can only fast forward to the last, best one.

The end of September three years ago: You, Karen, Paula and I shared dinner at Hill’s Resort at Priest Lake. Afterwards we went further north to spend the night in two cabins which awaited us by a stream in the woods. The next morning after breakfast we traveled another 30 miles onward to North Idaho’s Great Cathedral: the giant cedars of Roosevelt Grove. The four of us walked through patchy fog and misting rain, but you didn’t seem to mind sacrificing your guitar as we made our way up a mysterious trail on which none of us had ever been before. It led directly to the inside of a majestic living tree whose base had been hollowed out by fire centuries ago. Paula and I slipped inside and you read us our vows and sang to us your enchanting wedding song. We wept. Thanks to you, Charley Packard and Karen. Forever.

Dann Hall

•He was my best friend and my hero. I always felt lucky that Charley was my big brother. He taught me how to high jump. I taught him how to play jacks.

Growing up with Charley, I learned what love and kindness really are. His spirit was kind and gentle. Others were drawn to Charley. He listened when they spoke to him. That person mattered to him and they knew it. He was nice to his little sister and I love and miss him so much.
Jackie Shy

•Charley had a heart, a voice and a soul that he was willing to share to help others.  His own struggles with drugs and alcohol allowed him to understand the frailties of we humans and made him a better man. He performed over 1,700 weddings. He comforted grieving families and friends who lost their loved ones by conducting funeral services  with care and concern.

He helped the sick, especially those who were struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. When people graduated from Drug Court, he willingly came to sing in celebration of the achievement of sobriety for those who were successful. He shared his thoughts and wisdom with the graduates and helped make their graduation day even more special. He counseled people with substance abuse issues and stood as an example of what could be accomplished.

His empathy and heartfelt emotions came through in his music. His poignant way with words, his humor (which was often ironic), provided laughter as well as an escape from some of the harshness of life for those who listened and cared. Charley was a good man who will continue to live on in our hearts and minds.
Steve Verby

•Writing about my friend Charley is a bit daunting, when I think of what he might write given the same task. What he could do with language was the stuff of breathtaking wonder. Into this gift of words he wove music and spirit like an alchemist gifted with the grace of a prophet. Did Kris Kristofferson write this song for Charley? “…he’s a poet, he’s a picker, he’s a prophet, he’s a pusher, he’s a pilgrim and and preacher, he’s a problem when he’s stoned.” In recovery Charley channeled his fierce, creative energy into mentoring so many. He never missed a beat given the chance to spread the good word with a loving smile. I can hear him singing now, “from the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse, the goin’ up was worth the comin’ down.” Thank you, dearest Charley. God speed, old friend.
Belinda Bowler

•It was 1972 when Cinde and I first met Charley. We had gone with Dennis and Carol Coats to hear their friends “Charley D. and Milo” at the local bowling alley bar in Costa Mesa. It was the beginning of a friendship that has remained constant over 45 years. The southern California “migration” and our eventual move from southern Idaho brought us all together in Sandpoint. Certainly a book could be written about the years that followed.

One of my most treasured times with Charley happened a few years after Cinde’s passing. He kept saying, “You need to make an album, you need to write some songs!” I said, but I’m not a writer… His advice, “Just write it down, write everything down. Out of that something will surely come.” And so it did. With his encouragement and gentle nudging we sat together many afternoons playing through ideas, fine-tuning lyrics and writing songs together. “Everything Must Change” would not have happened without him.

His last words to me (not knowing they would be the last) … “I love you, B.”  I love you, Charley.

“We’ll meet again on some bright highway, songs to sing and tales to tell…”

(Steve Earle – “Pilgrim”)
Beth Pederson

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