By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society
Recently, Dorothy Gibson, a true part of Sausalito’s renaissance community, passed away. Dorothy was able to document the pathways, stairs and city-maintained street ends that are in the public domain. Her desire was to protect these areas from private encroachments so future generations could continue to enjoy these pedestrian byways as much as she did.
She was born February 9, 1923 in Columbus, Ohio the third of 5 children. Her family lived on a farm for a while but trying to raise kids during the great depression proved to be a challenge. Soon the family sold off all their belongings and moved back to the Columbus. She would return to school in the city, which she enjoyed. Her mother had at one time been a teacher in Cambridge Ohio, which might account for Dorothy’s love of school. She attended Ohio State, and then entered the Graduate department of UC Berkeley in the psychology department. She found this to be more related to research when what she wanted to do was more clinical. She applied to different schools, ending up at Smith College where she was accepted in their speedup program and studied Freudian psychotherapy.
After that, she moved to San Francisco to become the assistant director of Campfire Girls, a group she had been involved with most of her life. It was during this time that she started visiting Sausalito. She would spend time walking the paths in the hills where she would eventually find a little cottage to rent.
Dorothy started going to City Council meetings, wanting to get involved in the town’s politics. She soon found herself on the Steering Committee for the 1995 General Plan; her assignment was the environment which lead to her writing her first book titled Exploring Sausalito’s Paths and Walkways. In that book she reveals a hidden Sausalito that is full of surprises, wonderful views and tiny niches perfect for solitude and reflection. In her next two publications she continued to explore this theme. Her book titled Marin Headlands, opens with a strong introductory statement about how the history of the headlands is the history of the Earth during the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era some 200 million years ago. Strong words for a woman who would take on both Sally Stanford and Buddy DeBruyn running for City Council in Sausalito; she remembered these two as her chief adversaries. She would lose the election by 30 votes.
Her good friend Billie Anderson of the Marin Scope told her that she needed to take a trip. This was the beginning of her becoming an avid world traveler, which led her to more than 50 countries on 4 continents, camping in more than 80 national parks. She would send Billy post cards from her locations. Billy in turn kept them and started a column in called Travels with Dorothy.
It was during one of these trips that she was injured.
She had been on a climbing exhibition to Mt. Olympus and decided to attend a festival in Thessalonica; went running across the freeway in Greece and was hit by two young men riding a motorcycle.
She ended up in the hospital with broken ribs, snapped pelvis and head trauma. She had to buy three seats on a Pan Am flight back to the USA because she could not sit up but could only lie flat. Her good friend Mignone Conner was very active in the Episcopal Church so they raised money to help care for her. The year was 1980; Carol Peltz was mayor of Sausalito at this time. The community, under the direction of Beth and John Hutman, took her address book and raised enough money to pay all of her medical bills. She said that she felt like she had died and been resurrected.
Dorothy Gibson was known for getting involved with an issue. She would not let go until she had thoroughly researched it; the last issue was the Patriot Act of 2001. She had gotten hold of material from the ACLU encouraging members to rally around and kill the Patriot Act. She became very concerned because she had lived through the McCarthy era and had her job threatened because she’d been confused with another Dorothy Gibson. She had friends who had been called before the HUAC; she saw this all coming back again.
She took action by gathering people like resident Vicki Nichols to help her get communities to rise up against the Patriot Act. She also called members of the City Council to get them interested. Eventually she and Vicki were able to put together forums on this issue while working with the ACLU and the peace group of Marin.
Dorothy E. Gibson had her own path. That path led her to not only find the paths in Sausalito but also the path to a strong political career. Her small figure we have all become accustomed to seeing has now joined the spirits of the paths. So next time you climb one of Sausalito’s hidden stairways or find yourself walking up a path on the hillside, take time to look around and say hello to Dorothy because her spirit is watching you, saying: “Keep to the path.”