By Gene Kira, Sept. 8, 2001, as published in Western Outdoors Magazine:
[Fred Hoctor, Baja California columnist for Western Outdoor Publications since 1987, passed away in San Diego on July 24, 2001, after suffering a heart attack at his home at Punta Banda, Ensenada, Mexico. A memorial gathering of more than 100 of Fred's family and friends from as far away as Hawaii was held at La Jolla Camp in Ensenada on August 12, 2001. Fred's ashes and his old fishing rod were scattered in the sea from a panga just off the bluff where he had lived for three decades.]
All good writers need to have secret lives, and Fred Hoctor was a very good writer, so it seems fitting and proper that he had more than his share of partly-hidden selves, and that among the friends and family members who gathered to remember him on the beach at Punta Banda, Ensenada, Mexico, last August there were many familiar faces, and a few surprises as well. Fred wouldn't have allowed it any other way.
There were those who most remembered Fred as the long-standing weekly Baja columnist for Western Outdoor News, only the third person ever to hold that position in nearly half a century of publication. For them, the name "Fred Hoctor" will always recall his intimate knowledge of Baja California, his courageous cries for the conservation and protection of its natural beauty, and most of all, his rapier-sharp wit and deadly accurate, humorous descriptions of the many Baja people that he loved and found so fascinating.
Others remembered Fred most for his virtuoso 1984 book, Baja Haha, a collection of wacky, wonderful stories about the colony of close friends he made during 30 years of life on a little bluff overlooking the bay of Ensenada. Several of those "characters" from the book attended Fred's memorial gathering, and unconsciously, they provided new insights into the mind of the author. Here, in flesh and blood, was the real "Toy Man," and here, the "Music Man," and in comparing the real life people to the unforgettable characters Fred had made of them, one felt a new closeness and kindredship with another of the writer's secret lives.
Then came a litany of humorous and heart-felt stories from many of Fred's old Punta Banda cronies, with the congregation responding in belly laughs and a tear choked back now and then, and later, a young man stepped up to the microphone and delivered a show-stopping line to a stunned audience: "I don't know you, and you don't know me, but I want to tell you a story about Fred Hoctor..." Speaking to a completely silent room, the young man told of how, a quarter-century earlier, he and his sister, for whatever reason, had found themselves in need of a father, and of how Fred had stepped up to the plate for them in such a loving and giving way that they now considered themselves to be his stepchildren, and finally, of how they had come to Ensenada on this day to pay tribute to him and tell their story to his friends.
Yet another of the author's secret lives.
And, also moving throughout that afternoon on the beach at Punta Banda last August, was an older, deeper Fred that few were aware of. This unknown Fred belonged only to Sylvia, his wife of many years, his sisters Fran and Harriet, who had come from Michigan and New York, and perhaps just a handful of others who loved him not only for what he was, but also for what he might have been.
For anyone who knew him well, and who read between the lines of his writings to appreciate the layering of voice, the subtleties of tone, and the all-encompassing, forgiving humanity, it was obvious that even though he kept it well hidden behind a veil of tough-guy humor, Fred Hoctor was in reality a kind-hearted gentleman, a genius, and a true scholar.
He could readily quote passages from John Donne, Socrates, Descartes, Melville and a host of others, whatever the occasion called for, but he usually did so only privately, and the great breadth and depth of his intellect was rarely revealed in the public writings by which he was known. One of Fred's favorite novels was Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, which he re-read every few years, and that says a lot about him.
In 1930, Fred was born into a talented and accomplished family in Schenectady, New York, but from the beginning he followed his own Falstaffian path, somewhat to their disappointment, in an adventurous life that included a police raid on his high school graduation party, and one period lasting several years when nobody knew where he was (Hawaii). In 1952, he graduated from Hamilton College, and he later attended graduate school at NYU. His early employment included stints as a lifeguard, dishwasher, elevator man, bellhop, seaman, bartender, manager of a pet cemetery, horse rancher, flower peddler, illegal fishing guide, and many writing, editorial and public relations jobs in New York, Florida and California.
That's quite a few more secret lives, but Fred was far from finished. In 1973 he married Sylvia Ann Hickman, of Wichita, in San Diego. In 1984 his book, Baja Haha, was published. In 1985 he became Baja columnist for Western Outdoor News, and in 1987 he finally gave up drinking, and settled into his life at Punta Banda as the battle-scarred Baja writer who came to be loved by a whole generation of aficionados.
Throughout, Fred always kept things in proper perspective, never letting his office go to his head, and his many friends valued that true sincerity. His longtime transcriber, Elizabeth Poulson of Punta Banda, loves to tell the story of how Fred would sometimes suddenly stop dictating in mid-sentence, look at her, and ask, "Am I still in a quote?"
Among Fred's closest family and friends, there was throughout his life a certain soft regret, a yearning to witness what a person of such great ability might accomplish in the business world, in academia, perhaps on the political stage, or in any number of venues in which he might have excelled. But throughout his many, very full lives, some secret and some not, Fred always followed his own path, and in doing so he brought warmth, and humor, and richness to people's lives by doing what he did best, as a storyteller and writer, living on a little bluff at Punta Banda.
* * * * *
It must have been a lively bait on stout line, dropped from the heavens on that July day near the ocean's edge.
The point was sharp, and the hook set unyielding.
The mossback yellowtail, the sounding giant yellowfin tuna, and the relentless swordfish all seemed frail as they witnessed this epic battle from below.
Twice brought to the boat, he struggled deep, trying to free himself from the terrible pull.
When again at deep color, he looked up to glimpse not a gaff, but a soft net eager to lift him into heaven's boat.
Afloat on purple water of boundless depth, he joined the poets and the anglers who had passed before him, and was welcomed to the table of fishing fables and golden dorado.
--Will Heard, August, 2001
* * * * *
(Related Ensenada articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Ensenada information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Ensenada area in "Mexico Fishing News.")