ENCINITAS — Chris Saunders lived his life like the short summary sentence on his LinkedIn profile.
“I want to make a positive impact on society.”
Friends and family said Saunders, An Emmy Award-winning television broadcaster and longtime Encinitas resident who was a fixture on local TV news for two decades, did just that.
Saunders, who also spent years as a prominent media professional after years on the local CBS affiliate KFMB Channel 8, died Sept. 21 at UCSD Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, after a battle with esophageal cancer.
He was 67.
Family and friends remember Saunders as a funny, yet dedicated, journalist who loved his family, had a passion for music and an affinity for the Beatles.
“He was a goofball but also engaging and an incredibly dedicated and a fabulous journalist,” Marsha Herman, his wife of 40 years, said in previous reports. “We met at a party in Baltimore, and I adored him from the very beginning.”
Saunders spent several decades in broadcast media, beginning on the radio when he worked for WCBM in Baltimore before he switched to television.
He worked with two TV stations in Baltimore before moving to San Diego, where he first landed at the KCST, the predecessor for San Diego’s NBC affiliate, KNSD Channel 7, and worked as an assignment editor and producer.
Saunders then moved on to KFMB, where he worked from 1980 to 2000 as a reporter, anchor and producer. There, he won several awards, including three Emmys and the Sol Price Award for Excellence in Journalism.
Following his TV career, Saunders had a successful career as a spokesman and media relations official with several organizations, including the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, Cal Western School of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and most recently at Palomar Health.
“His work with the (Sheriff’s Department) was important for him because it gave him the opportunity to train public information officers throughout the state on how to communicate with the media and how to get the best coverage. … It was a joy for him to work on the ‘other side.’ He had an immense respect for the media,” Herman said.
The couple called Encinitas home for 32 years.
Saunders was born Nov. 12, 1949, as the second of four children to Joaquin Sardinas and Anabel Vogler Saunders. His father, who was the director of operations for Martin Marieatta Corp. during the time when it handled the Lunar Excursion Module, changed the family surname prior to escaping the Dominican Republic under President Rafael Trujillo.
“He was always very proud that his dad really was a rocket scientist who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic,” former colleague Jody Hammond said.
Saunders served on several boards, including the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Regional Hate Crimes Coalition, Trauma Intervention Programs of San Diego and San Diego Padres Hispanic Community Leadership Council.
“His father came to U.S. in the 1940s and being Hispanic was a big deal,” Herman says. “Chris said growing up in his house was a lot like ‘I Love Lucy.’ He didn’t speak Spanish as a child and told me it wasn’t accepted in the 1950s to be Latino.”
Outside of work, Saunders was an avid musician and singer, playing both the guitar and piano, most recently in a band in North County called Innocent Bystanders.
He also was a fan of the Beatles, and friends said one of his most memorable assignments as a journalist was traveling to England to cover the 25th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America.
“We got to go to London and Liverpool,” recalls Dean Elwood, the news director at KFMB who was Saunders’ producer during his time at the station. “We stayed about a week. We did a bunch of Beatles stories. We happened to run into John’s uncle in a park and hung out and talked with him. We went to Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles actually played. Chris got to play the piano. He played ‘Let It Be.’ And we walked the famous Abbey Road crosswalk. It was an amazing trip for Beatles fans.”
Saunders is survived by his wife; daughters Juliet Saunders of Alpine and Hillary Sardiñas of Albany, California; and two grandchildren, Nylea Luna, age 2½, and Jada Mei, 3 weeks.
A memorial is planned for Oct. 22. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Saunders’ name to the Anti-Defamation League-San Diego, California Innocence Project or the Esophageal Cancer Action Network.