Were we ever this young?
The impossibly baby-faced couple above is PATRICK CUNNEEN (age 16) and I (age 14!) at the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, there in 1950 to see The Andrews Sisters perform. All dressed up and – notice the ashtray – smoking cigarettes like real adults.
It seems like a different world and, of course, it was.
As if being made aware of my mortality by a massive heart attack was not enough of a wake-up call, in the last couple of months I have lost the last two people on this Earth who knew and remembered me from when I was in my teens. Both, remarkably, remained good friends to me for over seven decades. Both deaths, although not completely unexpected, gave me a terrible jolt. One was Patrick, my first real boyfriend, and the other – who I will discuss in a separate blog post – was JOANNA MARIE BRAMBLE, my closest friend from when I entered the convent at age 19 and we studied together to become nuns.
Here we are a little bit older, and so sophisticated (that hat).
I first met Patrick at a co-ed dance that was held for our two Catholic High Schools: Sacred Heart for boys and Star of the Sea Academy for girls. He was a Junior and I was a very young Sophomore only just over my tomboy phase. I thought he was so smooth and handsome, and such a great dancer. When he asked me to dance the first time, he whispered in my ear: “You have style, you have grace!” I thought, “I do?”. Well, I was completely enthralled and smitten. Very soon after that I accepted his school ring and we went “steady”, in the parlance of the day.
Later, we became lifelong friends, stayed in touch all the way into old age…but this is how I like to remember him, when we were so young and starting out.
Pat lived in the Sunset District, I lived in the Richmond District, with the Golden Gate Park between us. He had a wonderful Irish father who attended all his basketball games and would drive us to the movies and pick us up whenever we asked. His mother was Slovenian, and in Pat’s last years he was finally able to visit and fall in love with her home country which would have pleased her immensely. I remember too that he was very fond of my mother who at the time still had traces of her Irish brogue. Years after I had married Burt and moved away to Denver, he would still make a point of stopping by occasionally just to visit and chat with Mom, which I thought was so sweet of him.
Back in the 50’s though, Pat and I used to hitchhike across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Town & Country Club in the town of Fairfax, Marin County, which was a big favorite of everyone our age. Not only did it have a great swimming pool with sunbathing lawns and picnic areas, it featured an outdoor bandstand and dance floor called the Redwood Bowl, which broadcast live dance music throughout the western United States on Saturday nights. It was strung with colored lights and to us was a magical haven! I can still hear echoing refrains of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” and Johnny Mathis’s “Chances Are”.
But mostly we hung out close to home and swam in the ocean at what was called Kelly’s Cove near the Cliff House. One of my best memories is when we lit a fire at dusk and sat around all bundled up after a swim. There was a real cast of characters that hung out there with us – like Carol Schuldt, who would earn the title “Queen Of The Beach” by body surfing there every day for the rest of her life! She became a local legend, was written up many times in the newspapers!
Another passion we shared was being a big fan of Jack LaLanne, the famous fitness guru, and exercising together to his television show. We would both go on to stay physically active. (If you don’t know, Jack LaLanne famously marked his 70th birthday by towing a flotilla of 70 rowboats holding 70 people during a mile-long swim in Long Beach Harbor; on his 88th birthday he did 88 push-ups on his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame – and he lived to be 96!)
And we continued to attend all of our individual special dances and Proms together throughout High School and even later when he attended USF. By the time he had two years of college there, he told me the knew the business world was not for him. So he quit and joined the San Francisco Fire Department, where he would serve the city for 42 years!
Here are some fun pictures of the two of us at school dances and proms (with my ever-changing hair styles and colors):
It was not long after he became a fireman he met his future wife while visiting with friends in Waikiki on Oahu Island. Hawaii was not a state yet and still a territory. By that time, I was on my way to a modeling career and our paths began to part. This picture is of Patrick on that trip to Hawaii with his buddies. Pat’s on the left. He looked a lot like the current heart throb – another Patrick – Patrick Dempsey!
Pat distinguished himself in the fire department and was loved and respected by everyone he worked with, as you can see from comments on his obituary:“Class act of a gentleman and a fearless firefighter!”….”Pat had a strong smile and a stronger handshake”….”Kind and gracious and a life-loving enthusiast of the outdoors!” Yes, not only was he a great swimmer and runner, he went hiking and rode his bike all over Northern California. In fact, in true LaLanne fashion, he won a Triathlon at 80 years-old!
One other obituary comment says, “He represented the true spirit of San Francisco”. So true. He was inextricably linked and devoted to his birth city and the entire Bay Area. He knew every inch of it, explored it vigorously – and as a voracious reader, was a virtual encyclopedia about its history.
Here is another picture of Pat at Lake Tahoe when he was in his 80’s.
There were so many aspects of him…
For instance he was a 50 year member of the prestigious South End Rowing Club, located in what is known as Aquatic Park next to the cable car turn-around and the Buena Vista restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf. The exclusive club is known for the members yearly invitational swim to Alcatraz. Besides serving on the Board of Directors, and making the 1.25 mile swim, he used to do all the posters and artwork for the club events.
This is a picture taken at the South End Rowing Club. If you look closely you can see Alcatraz Island on the right in the distance and over on the left is the Golden Gate Bridge! The sun is setting over Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.
It would not be fitting to close this memorial of Pat without mentioning his 52 year marriage to the nurse he met in Hawaii. They had a long happy life together. Her name was Betty and he took loving care of her during her late life battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
But in those early years, as Pat’s life changed with raising and caring for his growing family (two sons – Patrick Jr. and Garrett, and two daughters, Connie and Kelly) – mine went through some radical changes as well.
I became disillusioned by the narcissistic world of modeling, which I did for five years, and made the decision to enter the convent. I was hoping to further my education and do some good in the world! And that is where I met Joanna which I will write about next!
However, that also leads to another amazing aspect of my friendship with Pat…
After I left the convent, I had a brief marriage to Bruce Lattig, the artist, and had my son, Christian. Somehow, Pat and Bruce Lattig wound up becoming good friends and their close friendship lasted long past our divorce and until Bruce’s passing. Here are a couple of pictures of them. Coincidentally, one of us picnicking at the aforementioned Mount Tamalpais and the other is of the two of them at Kelly’s Cove!!
I remember thinking it was kind of weird that my ex-boyfriend and ex-husband became such buddies, but they ended up helping each other through some tough times, and it kept all three of us in touch over the years, so it was a blessing.
Here is a shot from my last visit with Pat in San Francisco in 2014:
Our final communication via email was just a month before he died – ironically, and with his usual generosity, he wrote to check on me and my recovery. I only found out about his passing after stumbling upon his obituary on Facebook, which somehow made the loss feel even worse.
But I take comfort that he lived fully up to his very last days.
And all the tributes on his memorial page only highlight the amazing love his family felt for him and the great impact he had on the community and so many people’s lives.
He was such a special person to me and I am so thankful to have known him.
I miss him already.