What's become of Huggy Bear?

Patti Bills, director of director of Medford's Visitor and Convention Bureau, with Huggy Bear in 1981.

The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen mocked him, the Secret Service checked out his insides and city fathers and mothers ultimately sent him off into hibernation.

But for two decades, Huggy Bear was the Rogue Valley's ultimate meet-and-greet icon, welcoming the elite and commoner alike upon a visit to Medford.

Debuting in 1980, Huggy Bear bear-hugged President Ronald Reagan, the Smothers Brothers, Charley Pride and Jay Leno, among many others. Huggy's progenitor was the late Patti Bills, Medford Visitors and Convention Bureau executive director at the time.

There were a few times when the person wearing the Huggy Bear outfit, created by Medford resident Marilyn Brewer, wasn't anonymous. One such case was when Barbara Grey, then Republican precinct chairwoman for Jackson County, donned the outfit to meet Reagan at the Medford airport.

The Secret Service had an operations trailer, where an agent checked out Grey and the costume to make sure nothing was concealed.

"They had to be sure that I was the one in it, and the one that went out on the platform," Grey told the Mail Tribune.

But not everyone loved Huggy.

Caen took his shot in 1994, calling Medford "The 'Awww' City" and pointing out that "its residents mail out cardboard huggy bears that are 'Good for One Free Hug — We Hug Visitors in Medford.' Watch your pocketbook!"

In September 1996, the Oregon State Bar convention was held in Medford and Huggy got the boot during a reception for lawyers. Within a year, the City Council was airing similar thoughts, and Huggy was put to rest in 1999.

Today, Huggy's remains rest at the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County office. After the city sent Huggy packing, then-Mayor Lindsay Berryman admitted the mascot would be missed.

"Huggy Bear's like a member of my family," Berryman said at the time. "It'll be like watching him getting married and move away. I hope he'll come back and visit from time to time. I think it'll be a long time before he's forgotten."

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