Burton Chipman Bezanson, known as “Chips,” dies at 78
In his final years, Burton Chipman Bezanson, known to many locals as “Chips,” most looked forward to daily phone calls with his daughter.
Eight years ago, Bezanson and his daughter, Tammy Cookston, were reunited after 35 years without contact. Wanting to connect with him as much as possible since then, Cookston said, “I called my dad every single day.”
He worked numerous jobs — “from the circus to the oil field,” according to Cookston — and traveled throughout the country before arriving in Grass Valley. He was homeless for years, sheltered at times by Hospitality House, whose staff found him housing in 2015, and ultimately resided in a local skilled nursing facility.
Bezanson died Nov. 30 due to COVID-19. He was 78.
According to Cookston, her father started to show symptoms the weekend before Thanksgiving, prompting a test which came back positive for the virus five days later, just a few days before his death.
“Even though I didn’t get to say an official goodbye, it makes it easier that I called every day, and he knew how much I loved him,” she said.
Cookston said she had recently considered moving him to Wyoming, where she lives, but hesitated as she “knew his heart was in California.”
Bezanson loved panning for gold. Cookston plans to send some of her father’s ashes to Hospitality House medical case manager Fred Skeen, who has agreed to spread them where Highway 49 meets Oregon Creek.
“I’m going to reintroduce the ashes among the gold dust, and he can work his way to the ocean,” said Skeen.
Skeen described Bezanson as both a lovable humorist — often joking or doing magic tricks to entertain the youth who helped out at the shelter — and philosopher, full of wisdom.
“He was one of those characters who makes this work all worthwhile,” he said.
Hospitality House co-founder Cindy Maple said Bezanson “always had a story.”
Maple first met Bezanson around 15 years ago, in the very first days of the shelter being open. She recalled the lasting impact of his storytelling, especially when it came to the everyday experiences of homelessness.
“It really impacted my thinking from that day forward,” said Maple. “I understood it on some level … but that was an eye opener for me, and I never forgot that from Chips.”
Cookston recounted what her father told her one day when she asked him if he wanted her to organize a funeral after his death: “All I want you to say is, ’whoop-de-do.’”
The day he died, when she received the phone call informing her, she remembered what he had said and found herself laughing through her tears, saying, “Well, whoop-de-do, dad.”
Cookston emphasized Bezanson’s love for her children — his grandchildren — Elijah, Harley, Dayson, and Nova.
Soon after their reunion, before Cookston’s two youngest children were born, Bezanson sent her some money for her two eldest — along with the conditions that it be spent exclusively on ice cream, and that the boys be allowed to eat as much of it as they wanted.
In his honor, she said, she will treat her two youngest to an ice cream day soon, and let them know that is exactly what their grandfather would have wanted for them.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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