La Jolla Community Center members gather for portrait unveiling and tribute to benefactor Florence Riford
By Ashley Mackin
Members of the La Jolla Community Center gathered on July 10 to hear a presentation honoring Florence Riford, the La Jolla philanthropist responsible for the community center, the La Jolla library and much more.
Community Center Director Nancy Walters offered a brief history of Riford’s life and then Riford’s friend and attorney, Tom Henry, shared anecdotes. All the while, attendees perused photo albums and admired poster-sized images of Florence Riford at various stages in her life.
Walters told the crowd that Florence’s fortune had its roots in her husband’s investment savvy. Ira Riford, a real estate broker, married Florence in 1923, and in 1941 he retired in La Jolla. Ira applied the his real estate knowledge to invest in property in Pacific Beach and La Jolla.
When Ira died in 1963, he left Florence with plenty of money, but no business acumen. Florence claimed she didn’t even know how to write a check when Ira died.
However, after his passing, Florence began to study the market and attend financial seminars. She became an astute investor and greatly increased the assets left her.
“Florence was a remarkable woman, who largely made her fortune on her own,” Henry said. “Her husband gave her a little start, but she picked the investments and relied on her own judgment and we all know how well that went.”
When she decided on a project in which to invest, it had to be on her terms, Henry reported. “I always had to put some conditions in (place) so it would come out right,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but that was just Florence for you.”
For example, Henry said she wanted to make a gift to the UC San Diego Foundation. Soon after she met with the board members – seemingly all of a sudden – the foundation wanted to add community members to its board.
It turned out Florence’s donation would only be received on the condition that her lawyer be added to the board, so he could watch how her money was being spent.
Similarly, Florence wanted to donate land to the city for a library, but she had concerns the city would accept the land and then drag its feet on the construction, so she added a condition. The library had to be built within one year of the donation or the land would go to the Kiwanis Club. One year later, the La Jolla Riford Library was opened.
One of the few projects that came without conditions was the establishment of the Horizon Club for Senior Citizens of La Jolla. The club later became the Florence Riford Senior Club, The Riford Center, and eventually, the La Jolla Community Center.
“She was a woman of great determination and even greater compassion,” Walters said of Florence Riford.
Of her motivation for all her sizable donations, Walters quoted Florence, “I saw the need and wanted to help.”
But that’s not to say she didn’t make people work for her money. Henry joked that she would pit one charity against another to see who could make the best offer. She would be taken to the symphony and to dinners, and loved every minute of it.
Florence died in 1993. “I’m sorry she’s gone, she was a most interesting person,” Henry said.
The presentation concluded with the unveiling of a portrait of Florence Riford, painted by Dottie Stanley, an art instructor who teaches several classes at the Community Center. Stanley said she based the likeness on a photo of Florence Riford, painting a similar image of an older, smiling, Florence.
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