A ‘regular guy’: Santa Barbarans share fond memories of Paul Walker

Well wishers left tokens of support to the family of actor Paul Walker at his home on Monday morning. STEVE MALONE / NEWS-PRESS
Well wishers left tokens of support to the family of actor Paul Walker at his home on Monday morning.

While remembrances were coming in from movie fans and fellow actors over actor Paul Walker’s death this weekend, Santa Barbara social media showed that his adopted home was especially hard hit.

A long-time Mesa resident, Mr. Walker was known in the area as being a down-to-earth guy – albeit an increasingly recognizable one.

Paul Walker

Santa Barbarans on Facebook and Twitter dug out photos of their celebrity sightings with the “Fast and Furious” star and posted them with loving tributes.

Mr. Walker died on Saturday when the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT his racing team partner Roger Rodas smashed into a light pole and tree, then burst into flames.

There is no evidence they were racing another car like the one featured here, investigators said Monday, though speed was a factor.

The two had taken what was expected to be a brief drive away from a charity fundraiser and toy drive at Mr. Rodas’ custom car shop in the Southern California community of Valencia, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Walker’s publicist said the action star was Rodas’ passenger.

Over the weekend, as social media posts came in, it was clear that the movie star, who was best known for his series of “Fast and Furious” films was attuned to the Santa Barbara lifestyle. He loved dogs, as he walked his often on the Douglas Family Preserve.

He loved camping, hiking and surfing, as well as other outdoor sports.

Mr. Walker got involved with Santa Barbara Athletic Club’s School of Squash, and that’s where executive director Debbie Brown got to know him through a family friend.

Her School of Squash put on a fundraiser where squash pros came in to demonstrate their skills to the kids.

“Paul came to one of the evenings and was really blown away by the sport,” she said. “He loved doing all the pictures with everyone afterward, and he was a good supporter of that event.”

Once she posted those photos on Sunday as a remembrance for Mr. Walker she said messages came in from the pro squash community all over the world.

“He hung around our squash community on a lot of levels, and supported us,” Ms. Brown said. “I wanted to get him on the court and try squash. I was always hopeful to get him to do that.”

When Mr. Walker’s career was still taking off – after “Pleasantville” and “Varsity Blues” but before the “Fast and Furious” series he attended some classes at SBCC.

KCSB DJ Darla Bea Smith remembers him sitting in on her marketing class.

“This guy walks in with this total strut, confident, beautiful face,” she recalled.

“And I’m like, I know that guy and it’s not from City College. He sat in the front row for the whole class and then never came back. But on break I looked him up online and then on the weekend I watched every Paul Walker film, which wasn’t very many at the time.”

Ms. Smith also remembers how the Lazy Acres staff had a sort of secret code to let the female staff know he was in the store.

“All the girls would find some reason to come down to restock an aisle.”

Another Mesa regular, Christina Gumpert, would run into Mr. Walker often on the Mesa when she ran Hot Cookie in the shopping center, but their friendship went back to Sun Valley, when the two were friends at Valley Christian School, a small high school where “everybody knew everybody.”

“He never, ever changed,” she said, “When I ran into him on the streets in Santa Barbara, he always came up and gave me a hug, like time hadn’t passed at all. It didn’t matter who he was with, he always had time.”

The last time the two talked was last year, just before their 20th high school reunion. “He was bummed he couldn’t make it because he was off to another country to film a ‘Fast and Furious.'”

Ms. Gumbert expressed sadness not only about her famous friend’s death, but for his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow Rain Walker, who attends a local high school.

“I’m so sad it happened to him,” Ms. Gumpert said. “I think of the time he could have spent with his daughter.”

Carter Sisney, who often helped Mr. Walker at Samy’s Camera, also remembered the actor for being friendly – and a girl magnet.

“What I remember most is the girls lighting up whenever he was around,” Mr. Sisney said. “He was just a regular guy. The thing about it was that he’d remember everybody’s name in the store and he’d make them feel special. He had that unique gift to make them feel special, to make them feel seen and heard.”

Although Mr. Sisney helped Mr. Walker choose cameras, they soon found a conversation point in motorcycles.

“I think that anyone into the dual-sport riding, which is all about going wherever the light is bright, I think there’s a similarity with those into photography. There’s even a computer we have here named after him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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