Surprise ‘Get-Well’ drive-by held for former RSF Association General Manager Walt Ekard

Walt Ekard, along with his wife Pam, react to well wishers during a drive-by “get well soon” event at his Alpine home on May 24. Ekard says treatment is going well after recently being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union Tribune)

On Sunday, May 24, a grateful community organized a balloon bomb and “Get Well” drive-by for longtime former San Diego County chief administrative officer (CAO) and former general manager of the Rancho Santa Fe Association Walt Ekard as he undergoes treatment for pancreatic cancer.

About 1,000 colorful balloons were spread across Ekard’s lawn in Alpine under the watchful eyes of his young grandchildren while he napped. Inflated superheroes, like Ironman, were perched on the hedges.

“It was warm and windy at his home and one of the superheroes floated about 20 feet in the air and was heading east when last seen,” said Rancho Santa Fe resident Jim Ashcraft, who helped organize the event.

For the surprise drive-by, friends lined up in their cars a block away and then began to parade when Ekard came to the front porch with his wife Pam.

Ashcraft said Ekard was caught off-guard by the balloons and even more so with the arrival of friends and county officials such as current County CAO Helen Robbins-Meyer, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Bill Gore and City Mayoral candidate Todd Gloria. The mayor and city manager of Carlsbad also made drive-by appearances as did former RSF Association Planning Director Keith Behner.

“Walt was relaxed and looked surprisingly strong with all he has been through,” said Ashcraft. “The afternoon’s event should be a boost in spirit for the rough ride he faces in the future.”

Walt Ekard reacts to seeing former San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis during a drive-by “get well soon” event at his Alpine home on May 24.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ekard came to the Rancho Santa Association in 1987 as the general manager, tasked with addressing the high employee turnover, inconsistent application of rules and slow response to members’ concerns. One of his main goals was to develop a relationship with the county supervisors that before then had been nonexistent. “The Association simply had no voice at any level of the county governance,” said his successor, former RSF Association Manager Pete Smith.

Smith said in Ekard’s nine years of service at the Association, he was able to install a corporate culture of member service, employee pride with virtually no turnover, and stability in the financial operation of the golf club and the Association. Smith said he also established the committee process to encourage members to get involved in their community, including participating on committees, serving on regional county commissions, the Art Jury and the Association board.

Smith said Ekard’s success in establishing a strong relationship with the county was so effective that they lured him away in 1999 to run the entire county and apply the same leadership skills he had perfected in the Covenant. Ekard retired from the county in 2012.

“A clear indication of how successful and highly respected he was in Rancho Santa Fe is the fact over 25 families in the Covenant provided financial support for his recent get-well balloon party—a real tribute to Walt considering that it has been 25 years since Walt last worked in Rancho Santa Fe,” Smith said.