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Daily Pilot

Beloved lifeguard dies at 78

Buddy Belshe worked for 58 years, many in Newport Beach. He died due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.

By Jamie Rowe

8:06 PM PST, December 21, 2012

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Buddy Belshe, a lifeguard who retired after 58 years, most of them working in Newport Beach, has died. He was 78.

Belshe, who started out as a lifeguard in Huntington Beach just before his 16th birthday, had suffered from Alzheimer's disease, according to Corona del Mar Today, which was first to report that he had died Wednesday.

He originally thought about being a physical education or biology teacher, but the waters kept calling him, he said in previous Daily Pilot articles.

Belshe grew up about three blocks from the ocean in Huntington Beach, where his father, Gene, was the city's first paid lifeguard. His mother was a swimming instructor.

After about 10 years of rescuing people off Huntington's shores, Belshe came to Newport in 1960 when then-Fire Chief Jan Brisco asked him to work full-time for his city. His first assignment was supervising the West Newport division with Don Burns, a former Newport Harbor High School football coach.

Belshe only took one break during his long career to get his feet wet in real estate.

"It just really wasn't me," he said in a Daily Pilot article. "I like to have my toes in the sand."

And he did, coming back as a seasonal lifeguard in Corona del Mar until he retired in 2007. Prior to his seasonal work, he spent 27 years as a full-time lifeguard, leaving as a captain in 1987.

"The beach is where my real love is," Belshe told the Daily Pilot in 2004, when he was 69. "To me, being able to help people on the beach is just great. It's hard to explain. Not too many people love their job, but I truly love my job."

When he officially gave up his buoy, the lifeguards created the Buddy Belshe Buoy swim in his honor. The first year, 2007, 17 seasonal and full-time lifeguards, including then-Fire Chief Steve Lewis, participated.

In 1999, the Newport Beach City Council recognized Belshe for his dedication to marine safety.

He is survived by five adult children and five grandchildren, according to Corona del Mar Today. Services are being arranged and will take place in early January.

jamie.rowe@latimes.com

Twitter: @jamierowe3