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Fionna Perkins


Fionna Perkins, Point Arena's poet laureate and a tireless champion of the arts along Mendocino's South Coast, died Nov. 29 after struggling with failing health in the past two years. She was 93.

Perkins, along with her late husband Richard Perkins, an artist and architect, were instrumental in starting both the Mendocino and Gualala arts centers, said Stephen Kessler, a writer and editor of The Redwood Coast Review, a quarterly literary supplement of the Independent Coast Observer, a Gualala weekly publication.

But Kessler said Perkins' "crowning achievement" was bringing a library to Point Arena.

"The library was really their greatest project," he said. "Because they were so central, both of them, to not only creating but building the library."

Perkins spearheaded the fund-raising while her husband re-designed the interior of the building, which was the former Gilmore's General Store.

Perkins, who was born in Kalispell, Mont., in 1919, grew up in a Scottish family. Her original name was Lois Sinclair but she later changed her first name to Fionnaghal.

She grew up in the Depression era and her family traveled much of the Northwest. At a young age, Perkins saw her mother's bouts with menopause end with her mother being institutionalized for "hysteria," said Barbara Baer of Forestville, a friend of Perkins and the owner of Floreant Press.

As a teenager, Perkins moved to San Francisco to live with her sister. It was in high school that a teacher encouraged her to pursue her talents as a writer.

She would ultimately land a job as a "copy boy" for the San Francisco News. Later, when America was drawn into World War II, Perkins was made a reporter, filling the gap left by drafted journalists.

During the war, Perkins met her husband, Richard, who was in the Coast Guard, at a USO dance in San Francisco. The couple married in 1946.

They lived in Marin then in 1960 moved to Mendocino. In 1962, after the couple discovered the charms of Point Arena, they purchased a home on 10 acres there.

The two pursued artistic endeavors but eventually her husband would finish his architecture studies, obtain his license and design numerous homes along the south coast of Mendocino County.

Their efforts to build a library in Point Arena began in the 1980s when they helped launched the Friends of the Community Coast Library with other like-minded residents.

Baer said the experience left a lasting impact on Perkins and likely influenced her later activism in women's rights.

"Fionna was always a writer and she wrote constantly — poetry, essays, unpublished novels," Baer said, adding that Perkins loved doing readings of her work and often inspired others with her charisma and passion.

"She declaimed things," Baer said. "She brought people to her feet when she read. It was in the troubadour style."

Baer said Fionna's work was published in such collections as The Haight Ashbury Literary Anthology and The Mendocino Anthology of Women Poets. She was a great supporter of homegrown talent, hosting countless poetry readings and literary workshops.

She was a "community-oriented culture agitator," said Kessler, "tireless in her advocacy for arts, culture and literacy on the coast. Before her arrival there literally was very little."

Perkins and her husband, who died in 2011 of leukemia, had no children.