Ellen Clark Revelle, Philanthropist
Although she spent all her summers in La Jolla, Ellen Clark Revelle did not become a year-round resident until the fall of 1931. After her graduation from Scripps College that June, she and her husband, Roger Revelle, joined the colony at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where Roger eventually became the director. La Jolla has been her home ever since, although she did spend a year in Norway, seven years in the Washington, D.C., area and 14 years in Cambridge, Mass., when Roger was director of the center for population studies at Harvard.
Ellen and her daughter, Mary Revelle Paci, recently donated the historic 1904 Wisteria Cottage and its surrounding grounds to the La Jolla Historical Society. In the past, Ellen served on the boards of the La Jolla Library, La Jolla Art Center, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Music Society, San Diego Symphony and Scripps College.
Before her husband’s death in 1991, she traveled widely with him. But now, at 98 (July 31 is her birthday), Ellen stays closer to home.
Q: What brought you to La Jolla?The stork! I was born here, in 1910, in my great Aunt Ellen Browning Scripps’ guesthouse on Prospect Street. My mother did not want to go all the way to San Diego to the nearest hospital.
Q: What makes La Jolla special to you?It has been my hometown for most of my life. I love the fact that it is on the ocean, with mountains easily accessible. Although I’ve enjoyed living in cities, I prefer La Jolla’s small-town character.
Q: If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?I would eliminate many of the characterless, bulky buildings in the center of town and replace them with buildings of a more harmonious character and scale. I would also replace many of the telephone-pole-like palm trees with shade trees (for days when the sun is out).
Q: Who or what inspires you?Since childhood, I have been inspired by my great Aunt Ellen Browning Scripps, whom I had the good fortune to know until she died when I was 22. I admired her enduring
curiosity and interest in the world around her. And I particularly admired her foresightedness and creative thinking about the future needs of this community. For example, she arranged for the construction of the La Jolla Hospital, the community playground and the Women’s Club. Together with her sister, she endowed the Bishop’s School, and with her brother, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She provided for women’s higher education by founding Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.
Q: If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?I’d invite Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (to play for us), Emily Dickinson (to recite some of her poems, if she was not too shy), Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Barack and Michelle Obama (for a lively political discussion) and my late husband Roger (whom I’d love to have at my table again).
Q: What are you currently reading?I regularly read The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic. I recently completed Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book.” I’ve just started Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason.”
Q: What is your most prized possession?I treasure my photo albums, a record of happy times with my family - four children, 12 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren - and friends over a lifetime.
Q: What do you do for fun?I read, go to concerts and go to the theater with friends. I attend a memoir-writing class, participate in a monthly play-reading group and enjoy visits from family. In order to maintain my energy for these activities, I try to walk half an hour daily, practice tai chi and exercise in the pool (a poor substitute for snorkeling at the Cove, which I had to give up about five years ago).
Q: Describe your greatest accomplishment?I consider raising four wonderful children - my daughters Anne, Mary and Carolyn, and my son Bill - while supporting my husband’s challenging career to be my greatest accomplishment.
Q: What is your motto or philosophy of life?I have always been optimistic and curious about life, about what will happen next. As great Aunt Ellen said in her 90s: “Life is just beginning to be so very interesting!” I’ve continued to have many interests and - something that’s especially important - to have younger friends.