My husband, sweetheart, friend, and comrade in arms, Don Mayall. Don was a man whose main aim in life was making things better for other people in specific, concrete ways—helping them find training and jobs. After retirement, he put this this splendid energy and systematic, dedicated approach into preserving the wild beautiful lands of California.
His work was labor market analysis, founding two job market research companies, and authoring occupational guides for high-school and college vocational counselors. His few years at SRI coincided with the Vietnam protest era; he made it clear to the demonstrators and others whose side he was on. His last professional position was as a planner for Ohlone College, where he was also president of its California School Employees Association (CSEA) local, leading them in a successful strike. He proudly wore the teeshirt for this effort, with the motto: There’s No Class Without Classified!
Don moved to Palo Alto in 1980, settling on Alger Drive with his teenage daughter, and retiring from professional life a few years later. Making the most of his newly available time and energy, he looked about for environmentally activist groups, which led him inevitably (!) to the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society www.cnps-scv.org. He quickly rose to leadership positions.
In those days the chapter, which covers all of Santa Clara County and the southern part of San Mateo County, had a conservation chair for each county, roughly; Don was southern conservation chair and I was northern. The big issue then was keeping Edgewood County Park (San Mateo County) from being turned into a golf course, thereby destroying habitat for several federally and state-listed plants and invertebrates, including the Bay checkerspot butterfly. Don was a stalwart in the final campaign to make Edgewood a natural preserve (1991-1993), giving cogent testimony at Board of Supervisors meetings.
Inspired by that success, Don went on to advocate successfully for preservation status for an area with similar rare plants, Coyote Ridge, south of San Jose. His work surveying, mapping, and working with scientists from many disciplines built up a large base of knowledge about the Coyote Ridge serpentine habitat. This solid scientific base played a key role in its preservation. You can read about this effort and about Edgewood at http://cnps.org/cnps/publications/fremontia/fremontia_36-1.pdf .
Don held a lot of chapter positions: plant sales, vice chair, chair, rare plants, invasive exotics. The state organization honored this decades-long commitment, as you can read elsewhere on this site. When we first got together early in 1994, he was field trip chair: wildflower trips right from the beginning, how romantic is that!
Besides sharing this pretty consuming interest in native wildflowers, we found that we were also both passionate about classical music, especially the Baroque and Renaissance eras. We always got season subscriptions to the California Bach Society http://calbach.org/, which we both served as board members of, and the San Francisco Early Music Society. Later, we made annual trips to Los Angeles for L.A. Philharmonic concerts (abject Dudamel fans), as well as botanic gardens, museums, and adventurous dining. Besides that whole realm of classical music, Don brought me into the fold of jazz lovers. Elegant concerts at Filoli, the Douglas Beach House (Bach Dancing & Dynamite), random concerts elsewhere, freebies at the Stanford mall.
Don’s political involvement started early and continued throughout his life, with several grassroots campaigns, especially in the aughts. We were avid Deaniacs together, and charter members and officers of the Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley www.ddcsv.org , a local activist group which arose out of the campaign. He was club treasurer for several years, a demanding job with real penalties if you don’t do it correctly.
It was Good to be in meetings with him. He always got right to the point, but was never dismissive, small-minded, or inconsiderate of what others were saying. When he spoke, people shut up and listened.
His favored attire was jeans, baseball caps and teeshirts (I had fun buying a lot of these), especially tees celebrating music (“Music is a fundamental human right”) and the natural world. He got married in a CNPS teeshirt. Incidentally, it was at Edgewood, August 20, 1995, just us and three friends, with a big celebration at the house a couple weeks later.
He was also pretty good at cooking, specializing in polenta, rice dishes including paella, live crab (!), guacamole for meetings and our preprandials, and grilling. He was expert at household improvements, setting up the irrigation system, installing safety features. Early in his years on Alger Drive he put in a beautiful parquet floor, and installed the kitchen sink and its counter. We transformed the front yard from lawn to 100% year-round blooming California natives, and put in a vegetable garden together. He was a fellow cat lover; one of the pictures on this site shows Sparky being affectionate.
We’d both done a lot of traveling before getting together, and built our own memories with trips to Greece, Egypt, Alaska, England, Slovenia, Vienna, Hawaii several times, ditto Germany and Italy--rich in-depth trips. Lots of music in Germany and Italy. We also made a few birding trips, especially out to Woodbridge in the central valley to see sandhill cranes in early winter; birding was another world Don welcomed me into. We saw a lot of variety in the yard as well, due to the over 100 types of native plants there. One spectacular instance was two weeks of birding in Costa Rica, 2014.
Starting with those first wildflower trips when he was field trip chair, we visited as many California wildflower sites as possible, including extended desert trips with the chapter, annual pilgrimages to Carrizo Plain and Missimer Preserve, and quick day trips to nearby spots. Earth Day would usually find us at Edgewood.
We enjoyed the flowers here on Alger Drive too, every day. Quiet times together at the end of the day, at a table in the yard; candlelight dinnertimes in winter, with some jazz or Baroque music playing. Laughter and in-jokes and quirky, funny turns of phrase, like all couples. Never running out of things to talk about. When one of us left the house for a meeting or an errand, always kissing goodbye.
My husband, sweetheart, friend, and comrade in arms, I miss you so badly.
Carolyn Curtis, August 20, 2017 and later
Donald Holmes Mayall was born on May 2, 1932 in Chickasha, Oklahoma. His father, Broun H. Mayall was of English descent while his mother Geneva Holmes Mayall had Danish and other northern European heritage. He liked to say he was an Oklahoman and would speak with a prairie twang to prove it on occasion. But in reality, as the family moved to California in 1944, Don spent much of his youth growing up in the Golden State. Indeed, other than a few months living and working in Seattle, Don spent his entire adult life in California. And it was California’s beauty and fragility that captured his heart leading him to a life-long love of nature and a desire to protect it. He shared his love of the outdoors with his family and friends and often took backpacking and camping trips to the Sierra Nevada and up and down the coastline of California, Oregon and Washington. He would delight in identifying trees, plants and animals, geological formations, fungi, cloud formations, constellations; in fact, pretty much anything in the natural world that he found worthy of interest and study. This passion for nature, especially endangered native plants, would become the foundation for his work with the California Native Plant Society.
As a father he was loving, kind and patient. He taught largely by example rather than lecture. He let his children Norman and Jeanie find their own path, stepping in only when he felt guidance or cajoling was needed. Or not.
He was a great friend and formed life-long friendships with many. Everyone enjoyed his dry wit and deep intellect. He was quick to laugh and always found beauty in the things around him. And he took great joy in sharing both.
Don enjoyed music of all kinds as evidenced by his wide ranging and eclectic collection of records. He taught himself to read sheet music and played the autoharp, piano and harpsichord.
Don died suddenly and unexpectedly after a very brief illness on June 28, 2017. He is survived by his wife Carolyn, a son Norman, a daughter Jeanie, two grandchildren Garrison and Geneva, a brother Russel, three half sisters Nancy, Betsy and Sally and an ex-wife Chizuko (mother of Norman and Jeanie).
Norman Mayall, July 28, 2017