Harle G. Montgomery, 92, longtime La Jollan dies


Longtime La Jolla resident and philanthropist Harle G. Montgomery died of cancer on Oct. 24 at her home. She was 92.

Born in Beaumont, Texas, she came to La Jolla as a young girl when her parents, Dr. William Leroy Garth Sr. and Wilma Harle Garth, drove the family here in Model T. Ford, with all their belongings, village. She attended La Jolla public schools and then Stanford University.

Mrs. Montgomery’s interest in politics, social justice, education and the arts defined her life and philanthropic commitments to local institutions like the fund for the new San Diego main library, the Historical Society, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Salk Institute and to Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

A former journalist, she traveled throughout Europe before World War 11, writing about the possibility of war with her first husband Tom Dammann, also a journalist. Her career encompassed interviews with such leaders as King Hussein, King Faisal, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon as well as fisherman on the Baltic and farmers in Russia.

Her life changed dramatically when she became divorced from her first husband and married Kenneth F. Montgomery, a Chicago lawyer.

Her granddaughter, La Jollan Marnie Gavit said, “She was probably the most amazing woman I’ve ever known … all the things she’s done for our world, our country, our little community … we were lucky to have had her in it. … Gosh darn it, I have big shoes to fill.”

Cynthia Kobel, executive director of the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Foundation, had known Mrs. Montgomery for more than 40 years. They met when Kobel was moving into a house the Montgomerys were moving out of, she said Friday.

“She was always active, always wanted to know who needed help and looking at what needed to be done.”

Kobel laughed, recalling her friend’s life as an avid Democrat: “She told stories that they were the first Democrats in La Jolla.”

She campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and Jimmy Carter, and most recently, for President Barack Obama. At 90, she attended the event for Obama at Oprah Winfrey’s house in Santa Barbara.

She never lost her love of travel even as she dedicated herself to politics and philanthropy and served on the boards of visitors of Stanford and Harvard Law School and many other boards such as the La Jolla Playhouse. With her husband, she established the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Endowment at Dartmouth and to encourage public interest law, they established a chair at Stanford Law School.

In addition to Gavit, she is survived by her daughter, Terre Edwards; her granddaughter, Marnie Gavit; and three great-grandchildren, all of La Jolla; her nephew, Bryant Garth of Los Angeles; and Cynthia Kobel.

There will be a memorial gathering in May on what would have been her next birthday. The family suggested donations in her memory be made to the fund to build the new downtown San Diego Library or the La Jolla Historical Society.