As a young girl in the 1940s, Pat Eliot spent summers working for Charmian London at the old Jack London dude ranch, trading chores for a chance to ride her horse on Sonoma Mountain.
It sparked a love for the mountain that lasted a lifetime. For the first half of her adult life she traveled the world to exotic posts from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan with her diplomat husband, Ted, but always dreamed of getting back to the mountain of her youth. So when he retired from the foreign service in the 1980s they built a house on Sonoma Mountain. Pat Eliot devoted the next 30 years to exploring it by foot and horseback and fighting to preserve it for everyone.
She died Sunday at her Sonoma Mountain home surrounded by her husband and all four children. She was 87.
Ted Eliot described her as both strong and courageous, and passionately driven to preserve the mountain.
“She was absolutely fearless and wouldn’t take no for an answer when she was fixed on a goal that she felt was for the betterment of land and people,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, which facilitates public access to lands in Sonoma County. Eliot had served on its board.
In the 1990s Eliot co-founded the Sonoma Mountain Preservation group, which pressed the county to set development restrictions to protect the 2,463-foot summit and 3,000 surrounding acres.
“When you look up the mountain today, you won’t see any houses. And this is in perpetuity. It can only be changed by a vote of the people of Sonoma County and that is very unlikely,” Ted Eliot said.
“Having spent her life in embassies around the world, she had an ability to be diplomatic enough to rough off the edges when she was trying to get something,” said Mickey Cooke, a fellow mountain activist and friend for 65 years, ever since they were girls, riding on Mount Tamalpais and on the London Ranch.
Eliot also helped secure the transfer of 600 acres to Jack London State Historic Park. Last year, she saw another dream realized — the opening of the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, a loop that connects to a series of trails all the way to Jack London park.
While many property owners fight to keep the public away from their lands, the Eliots fought to open the mountain to all. They supported the Bay Area Ridge Trail on Sonoma Mountain, which is securing lands and easements with a goal of creating a 550-mile trail along the ridgeline above San Francisco Bay.
Over the past several years, Eliot served on the Sonoma Developmental Center Coalition, working to envision future public use of the 945-acre property when the center closes in 2018.
Jack London Park Partners, a nonprofit that took over management of Jack London park from the state, honored the Eliots in 2014 for their support. “Her spirit, her compassion, her strength of will, were a real force here,” said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of the nonprofit.
Born Patricia Peters in 1929 in Portland, Oregon, she moved to Marin County when she was 7, growing up in Kentfield and graduating from the Branson School in Ross. She met Ted Eliot while still a teenager, and the couple married four years later in Sri Lanka in 1951, where Ted Eliot was stationed.