Greg Bunker made a difference

His good work left a mark on Sacramento and on me, forever

The memorial service for Greg Bunker will be held on Tuesday, January 18, 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1300 N Street. It will be open to the public. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Gregory Bunker Memorial Fund c/o River City Bank, 900 K Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

My good friend Greg Bunker died last month. For the last 21 years, he served as the Francis House executive director, providing job counseling, emergency housing, transportation vouchers and a lot of hope for our Sacramento neighbors in need. Francis House served 2,132 people in November alone. Working in the trenches of a poverty organization, approaching daily challenges with compassion and understanding is a tough job, and it took a toll on Greg.

As significant as Greg’s accomplishments were as executive director of Francis House, the example he set as a human being was even greater. Greg was an incredibly loving person who cared deeply for everyone. He worked in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, where sharp elbows are the norm. But Greg had empathy for all, even individuals who opposed him or his organization. I learned a lot from his example.

In 1995, when the Sacramento News & Review was only six years old, a “Christian organization” called for a boycott of our paper because we published gay personal ads. This same group had successfully prevented high-school libraries from carrying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The threat of this boycott led numerous supermarkets and fast-food places to stop distributing SN&R.

I was worried. Given that we were barely keeping our head above water, if enough businesses stopped distributing the paper, we would be toast. SN&R had been working with Francis House, so I mentioned my problem to Greg. He suggested that I call Don Brown, the dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Don helped me write an open letter supporting freedom of speech and stating that Christianity should not be used to promote intolerance and bigotry. More than 50 Sacramento religious leaders signed this letter, and thousands of Sacramentans signed a petition supporting the News & Review.

After this introduction to Sacramento’s religious community, I started taking my kids to church. I helped organize an interfaith campaign, A Call for Unity, on the anniversary of September 11. I attended services at more than 100 places of worship in Sacramento, getting to know Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Protestant, as well as conservative Christian groups. I went on life-changing trips to India and Turkey with local Hindu and Muslim organizations. I began working with Sacramento’s Habitat for Humanity.

I started down this path because of my connection to Greg. Like so many of our homeless neighbors, I, too, was helped by Greg. His openness, empathy and connections were so helpful to me in a time of need. I will be forever grateful.