Defining love, La Jolla-style


For decades, La Jolla has been home to local and international movers and shakers. Philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, scientist Ron Evans, restaurateur George Hauer, San Diego City Council President Scott Peters, Chargers’ President and CEO Dean Spanos and pharmacist and businessman Orrin Gabsch are just a few of the Jewel’s prominent citizens.

Among the city’s notable list of “Who’s Who” are several husband-and-wife teams who have made an impact not only on their seaside community, but the state of California, the U.S. and the entire world.

Some of La Jolla’s historic Mr.-and-Mrs. teams are Theodor and Audrey Geisel, Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Pat Shea and Diann Shipione, John and Sally Thornton, Hugh Friedman and Lynn Schenk, and Claude-Anthony and Deborah Marengo.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, three of La Jolla’s power couples talk candidly about a part of their lives that is normally off the record.

Defining the Commuter Marriage

C. Hugh Friedman and Lynn Schenk

Although both are attorneys, Friedman and Schenk pursued vastly different career paths over the course of their 35-year marriage.

Friedman started out as a California Deputy Attorney General before accepting a part-time teaching position with the University of San Diego School of Law while practicing corporate law. In 1977, he became a full-time professor and is still on the faculty at USD.

Many of Friedman’s civic efforts were local. He served as president for several county and state organizations, including the San Diego County Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. With Schenk, Friedman recently pledged $2 million to USD School of Law.

Schenk’s career leaned toward politics, a bend that took her to Sacramento, and later, on to Washington, D.C. She was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the San Diego area. She then moved on to serve as Chief of Staff to Governor Gray Davis, just two of several prestigious career achievements.

The couple met while Schenk was a law student and Friedman was teaching at USD. From the start, Friedman’s moral, emotional and spiritual support were tremendously important to Schenk, she said, as was his ability to accommodate the demands of her role as a public servant.

Before e-mail and before cell phones, the couple successfully negotiated the demands of a commuter marriage.

“You’re careful of what you fight over when you only have a few days together,” Schenk said. “It’s important for people to have a commitment and say that commitment is more important than anything else, even more important than being right.”

Although it wasn’t always possible to be together for holidays and there were frequently lengthy separations, Friedman and Schenk found that distance did indeed make the heart grow fonder. They have precious memories of celebrations and trips that mark the special occasions in their lives, such as the momentous excursion to Bangkok that started with one of the airplane’s engines exploding right after take-off.

In person, Friedman and Schenk treat each other with almost newly-wed affection, respect and pride.

“I admire Lynn’s determination, her stick-to-it-ness,” Friedman said, while Schenk admires her husband as a renaissance man: intellectual, kind, accomplished.

They agree that the relationship has added a dimension to their individuality, rather than detracted from it.

“We’ve given each other wings,” Friedman said.

Passion, Profession and Perseverance

John and Sally Thornton

They are two of the most familiar faces around the La Jolla community. Active in social, civic and business ventures, John and Sally Thornton embody the lifestyle of La Jolla.

Married “a long time,” as Sally Thornton puts it, the couple met at the wedding of a mutual friend. A native San Diegan whose family arrived before the turn of the last century, Sally married Long Beach-born John, and they moved to the East Coast shortly after getting married so John could complete his MBA at Harvard.

While putting her husband through college, Sally Thornton studied the case histories and company profiles from his business courses. Smart, savvy and independent, she refined her own business acumen and was soon working alongside him.

The family’s operations include Thornton Winery and Cafe Champagne in Temecula. John is currently Chairman of the Board of Mitek Systems.

“Affection, trust, admiration and appreciation for each other, and a life full of fun,” is what makes their relationship work, said John.

While relationships are too individualized to offer advice, Sally said she feels there are too many short-timers.

“We all read in the news about all the celebrities and so forth, in and out and up and down,” she said. “I think if something doesn’t go right, they storm out and it’s over. Just because something doesn’t go your way or the other person’s way … you don’t jump out the door.”

The Ying and Yang of Love

Claude-Anthony and Deborah Marengo

Claude-Anthony and Deborah Marengo are about as opposite as two people can be.

He is a focused architect, while Deborah holds multiple positions: president of Promote La Jolla, owner of Goldfish Point Cafe and vice president of Marengo Morton Architects.

He’s the friend people call on for a good time, and she’s the one people count on in times of need.

He’s a creative dreamer, and she’s a practical professional.

He’s a West Coaster; she hails from the East Coast.

It is that vast, glorious diversity that serves as the cornerstone of the Marengo’s relationship.

Married in 1999, the couple met seven years prior when Claude-Anthony rented an apartment from Deborah. Today they work together at their design firm.

They’re no longer surprised when people ask, “How do you stand being around each other all day?”

Claude-Anthony said their differing skills, temperaments, perspectives and personalities make them highly compatible, 24/7.

“We really function as one unit,” he said. “There could be no better partner.”

He describes Deborah as a sort of extension cord: His creativity is energized and free to float, without taking off completely. While he comes up with endless ideas and possibilities, she deals with the facts to make them a reality.

Finding a way to couch her practicality in non-negative terms was a learning process for Deborah.

“Being with someone who is so creative – he’s kind of an idea-a-moment guy – was a challenge,” she said.

Another challenge they learned to deal with was balancing public time with private time.

Well-known in the community (he as a builder and develop and she as a volunteer with Promote La Jolla) even a casual dinner at Pasquale’s is likely to turn into a visit with friends and acquaintances.

They find frequent getaways a good solution.

“When you work together and play together, the celebratory times are more special with no distractions around you,” Claude-Anthony said.

Like every other aspect of their relationship, the qualities they admire most in one another fall at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“She’s good with people,” Claude-Anthony said, then added a string of additional compliments about her tenacity, passion, intelligence, sensibility and integrity.

Deborah said succinctly: “He wakes up happy in the morning.”