When Sally White said Christmas Day that she was going to take a nap, the family should have known that something was sorely amiss. You could hardly get Sally to sit down, much less lie down.
But with the same energy she’d applied for years to causes benefiting the city of Anaheim, she hopped out of bed in a couple of hours to serve Christmas dinner to 20, right down to the traditional plum pudding. Then, as her color turned increasingly ashen, her family suggested a ride to the emergency room.
She had open-heart surgery the following Saturday (the day of her annual open house, which irked her mightily), but that time, even the infamous Sally White determination could not get her out of bed.
Sally, who spent the better part of her adult life working to make Anaheim an even nicer place to live, died Wednesday night at age 87.
She’s the woman who helped save trees, brought the Brookhurst Community Center to town and saw to it that the Julianna Street Park was built so children wouldn’t have to play in the street.
She was one of those persistent women with the will, determination and organizational skills that really get things done.
Sally was a familiar figure at City Council meetings. They finally gave up trying to limit her time at the mike. Sally just got what she wanted.
And what she wanted was what she thought was good for Anaheim. More, not fewer, trees. More parks. Less development.
She didn’t always get her wish. She lost the parkway trees on her side of Broadway when they widened the street in 1989, but she saved those across the street.
Of course, Sally had done her homework. They were old trees the city had chopped down, and Sally knew of the city tree survey that specified that only those damaged or diseased were to be destroyed.
“If I’d known in advance,” she declared in a 1995 interview, “I would have wrapped myself around a tree, and they wouldn’t have dared saw me in half.”
The incident prompted her to start the all-volunteer, nonprofit project called Releaf Anaheim, which has volunteers planting several hundred trees a year, bought with donations, in public places.
It was trees – orange trees – that drew Sally and her husband, Joe, to Anaheim in the first place. They’d settled in Los Angeles when they first came to California, but they hated the big city.
They bought their five-bedroom house on Broadway – surrounded by orange orchards — in 1953 for $13,000. It’s now flanked by apartments, houses, the library and police station.
Sally was born Sarah Ann McLeish in Loch Gilly, Scotland, and was 5 when her family moved to Clinton, Ind. She was 12 when her mother died, leaving her to care for her brother and three sisters, one of whom was a newborn. Her father worked in the mines 100 miles away, so she became a single parent.
She quit school and worked part time in the local dime store, which is where Joe White picked her up one day. They were married in 1942, and Joe was immediately whisked off to war. Sally went to live with his sister in Los Angeles.
She went to work for Lockheed and became an inspector of the Liberator bombers.
When Joe returned, they lived in Los Angeles and had four children. He sold screen doors until they moved to Anaheim. Then they both went into real estate.
Sally loved people and had an exquisite knack for matching a house to the personality of a buyer. And she had more energy than a hummingbird.
She made most of her children’s clothes, kept a spotless house (with their help) and had home-cooked family meals every night.
During lean times, it was creamed chipped beef on toast (creamed tuna on Friday). Flush times brought roasts to the table.
In her spare time, she worked on behalf of Anaheim. She was a member of the Arts Council, the Anaheim Parks and Recreation Committee, the Orange County Parks, Harbors and Beaches Commission, the Anaheim Historical Society and was a founding member of Anaheim Beautiful. She also worked with Big Sisters.
In 1990, the county declared a Sally White Day. The city also dedicated the Waterwise Garden at the Anaheim Amtrak station in her honor.
She was funny, feisty and watched every penny, although she did have a penchant for Cadillacs. And when an adult child would come for dinner, she’d slip a $10 bill in her pocket, and say, “Now, honey, buy gas.” She loved to entertain and cooked six corned beefs for her St. Patrick’s Day crowd.
Her Christmas tradition was to make flannel pajamas for all the grandkids – even the 20-year-olds – all made from the same fabric.
One grandchild collected samples of all the fabrics used throughout the years and made her a quilt, which hangs with her other trophies on a wall of her home’s long hallway.
This year, she got the fabric bought – beige, with brown pretzels on it – but never managed to get the jammies made.