Ethel flew high, and far during seven decades on MB Strand
by Daniel Riley
In 2019, Ethel Pattison was recognized as the longest serving, active employee of the City of Los Angeles. The Manhattan Beach resident was 93-years-old.
During most of her nearly seven decades working for the City, Pattison served as the Los Angeles International Airport’s Chief Information Specialist. She welcomed heads of state, and movie stars. She greeted the Beatles as they deplaned during their first visit to California, and popped up in the background of classic photos of John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the tarmac. She then rode in a decoy limousine used to divert fans from the limo carrying the Beatles. Pattison had a Forrest Gump quality to her life. If it happened in Los Angeles in the 20th Century, Pattison was probably there, just in or out of the frame.
Pattison passed away September 19, at the age of 97, after a brief decline following a lifetime of infallibility. A Celebration of Life, in her memory, will be held Friday, October 13, at 1 p.m., on the beach at Fourth Street, in front of the Strand home she and her husband Syd purchased in 1955.
Ethel Lund Pattison was born on October 29, 1925, to Le Val Lund, and Grace Brown Lund in Hollywood. She and her brother, Le Val Lund, were raised in Los Feliz, on Lowry Road. Pattison attended John Marshall High School, where she was an athlete (a proud “Lettergirl”), and instrumental in advancing girls’ sports at the high school level. She was also a member of the Scholarship Society, Citizenship Honorary Society, the Girls League, and the Girls Athletic Association. In 2016, she was awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award from Marshall.
In 1943, Ethel enrolled at the University of Southern California, following in the footsteps of her father, who played football at USC in the early 1900s. She had been attending USC football games her whole life, and would remain a season ticket holder for the next eight decades. She graduated with the Class of 1947, with degrees in advertising and cinema.
Pattison was a United Airlines stewardess from 1951 to 1952. Though she spent just 18 months in the skies, Pattison devoted her remaining years to aviation — first in the public relations department at Los Angeles International Airport, and later as a president of the Clipped Wings, an association for former United Airlines flight attendants.
During a 2010 Manhattan Beach TedX talk, Pattison recalled helping to found the Flight Path Museum at LAX.
“I had boxes of history under my desk, which would have been lost if we hadn’t founded the museum,” she said.
During the talk Pattison recalled why Charles Lindberg selected the flight field for what became Los Angeles International Airport.
“He picked it because of its gentle downward slope toward the ocean. and gentle, onshore sea breeze, which were ideal for planes taking off,” she explained.
Ethel Lund met her future husband, Sydney Pattison (1928-2005), in 1951 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while in town for a United’s stewardess training program. In those days (and until a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1976), stewardesses were forbidden from flying if married (thus: “Clipped Wings”). As a result, her flying career ended with her wedding in 1952. The couple then moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Syd completed his degree in dentistry. In 1955, they settled in Manhattan Beach, where they lived the rest of their lives together.
Ethel and Syd’s daughter, Le Valley Pattison, was born in 1964, and raised at the 4th Street and Strand home, where the Pattisons hosted hundreds of memorable parties on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Christmas. If you’ve ever been on the Strand in Manhattan Beach on one of those holidays, you’ve probably heard Syd’s Hyperion Outfall Serenaders Dixieland Band, or eaten a hot dog, courtesy of the Pattisons’ grill. Ethel was the de facto camp counselor for multiple generations of men, women, and children who gathered on the beach at 4th Street on holidays to play volleyball, tug of war, and other raucous competitions.
The summer competitions on the sand were preparation for football season each fall, when Ethel and guests would file into the seats she held all her life at Tunnel 22 at the Coliseum. Well into her 90s, she would run up and down the Coliseum steps, cardinal and gold proudly displayed, a Victory V held high, making sure the undergraduate students were cheering loudly enough. In her lifetime, she experienced 11 national titles, 23 Rose Bowl victories, 50 defeats of UCLA, and more home wins than any one fan could reasonably dream of. She did not live to see USC play in the Big Ten — and that’s probably for the best.
Following the six glorious Saturdays each fall, Ethel gave much of the rest of her year to SC, donating to the football team, the marching band, the Traveler’s Foundation, and to scholarships, as well as serving as an alumni chair for the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.
For Ethel, the only thing more sacred than Trojan sports was the Summer Olympic Games every four years. She was hooked on the Olympics ever since she attended the 1932 Opening Ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a 6-year-old. She was long inspired by the track and field prowess of female stars like Babe Didrickson. Ethel and her brother, Val, attended every Summer Olympics between 1984 and 2004. None, of course, was more special than the return of the Summer Olympics to Los Angeles in 1984. She will no doubt be spiritually present when the Games returns to LA in 2028.
Anyone who met Ethel did not forget it. She was egoless, but made herself known. She was always the boss and friends adored her for it.
She was a member of the Alondra Golf Club for most of her adult life. She touched everything there was to touch related to the history of aviation in Southern California, and co-wrote a book on the history of LAX.
In 2006, in recognition of her 50 years of service to LAX, the rose garden adjacent to the airport administration building was named the Ethel Lund Pattison Garden. She attended practically every game her daughter, Le Valley, coached for three decades as head of the El Camino women’s indoor, and beach volleyball programs. She helped raise her one and only grandson, Logan (born 2004).
She loved talking to strangers. But her openness and curiosity did not mean she wouldn’t form an immediate opinion about you, or whatever you’d just said — and share it. More than anyone else, it was the strangers walking along The Strand in front of her house who got an earful. That thoroughfare, right at the front steps of her lifelong home, was a river of humanity, brought to her door, at all times. The door was always unlocked. Strangers walked right in to use the bathroom, to chat, drink a beer, and watch the fourth quarter.
Ethel stuck around longer than Syd, and her brother Val, and most of her 10,000 friends. She was 97, after all. But she never got old. She was connected, as ever, to what was happening in the world by being open to it, thrusting herself into the rush out front, wanting to know how things worked today.
The USC band marched down The Strand to Ehel’s front door on her 60th birthday. The band and all the guests had to leave that birthday night, but they don’t have to anymore. They can just keep playing out front on that pleasant permeable boundary between the house, the Strand, the sand, the sea, and the sky — and Ethel and all of her friends can keep hanging out forever.
A celebration of Pattison’s life will be held Friday, October 13, 2023, 1 p.m. on the beach at the bottom of Fourth Street and The Strand in Manhattan Beach.
Donations in Pattison’s memory may be made to the Flight Path Museum, 6661 W. Imperial Hwy., Los Angeles Ca.. or at Donate.flightpathlax.com. ER