Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Ruth Newhall dies at 93.


Ruth at the Mansion
Click image to enlarge

Santa Clarita's matriarch, Ruth Newhall, a tiny woman with a giant presence, died Monday in the same San Francisco hospital where she was born 93 years earlier.

Ruth Waldo Newhall and her late husband, Scott, were long the voice of the community — she was editor and he was publisher of The Newhall Signal in the 1970s and '80s, he known for his outrageous editorials and she equally famed for her witty gossip column.

Ruth Newhall had suffered a series of strokes over the past several years, and had been hospitalized for about three weeks with an infection that spread to her heart, son Skip Newhall said.

"She was such a marvelous lady. She'd done all kinds of things most women don't even dream of doing," said Bobbie Davis, a longtime friend and colleague.

Newhall's trademark was a brutal honesty in voice and print that somehow complemented a generous spirit.

"Many, many times Ruth and I disagreed on issues, but I never worried. She was a professional," said former Santa Clarita Mayor Clyde Smyth, longtime superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District. "She was a great lady and she was so generous with her time and resources."

And she was an adventurer, a woman well ahead of her time who never balked at challenge.

Newhall was a student leader at the University of California at Berkeley, a renegade who eloped with a man four years her junior, a middle-age woman who drove 3,500 miles with a daughter-in-law to buy an antique car in Mexico and a member of a pit crew for a drag-racing family member.

In 1963, the Newhalls bought the Signal, which colleagues say she piloted during stints as editor in 1970-78 and 1985-88.

"I never worked in another newsroom atmosphere like the one they created," said former Signal City Editor Joe Franco. "Scott was the swashbuckling showman, but Ruth was really the glue that held the newspaper together. She bred a family kind of atmosphere."

"She and Scott gave me my first job," said photographer Hans Gutknecht, now with the Daily News. "She was just a tiny little thing — she was really sweet, but she was just a tiger. She was definitely one of a kind."

The Newhalls eventually settled in a turreted old Victorian mansion in nearby Piru, a home with lavish gardens where the couple hosted endless charity and social events. Retired state Sen. Ed Davis, a former Los Angeles police chief, married Bobbie Davis at the mansion and the couple has since retired to Morro Bay.

"She drove up here by herself in her '80s," Ed Davis said. "She got up in the morning, stripped her bed, washed the sheets, made up the bed and headed up to San Francisco. By herself. She was really something, a wonderful, very elegant lady."

Together, the Newhalls were credited with the vision the one-time family business, The Newhall Land and Farming Company, had for the building of the community of Valencia, retired Chief Executive Officer Tom Lee said. Homes, businesses, shopping centers and parks rose from farmland that had been in the family nearly a century.

Scott, who died in 1992, was the great-grandson of pioneer Henry Mayo Newhall and a member of the Newhall Land board.

"I am heartbroken," Lee said. "She was just such a special person in my life."

Though the company was publicly held before Newhall Land began developing Valencia, the Newhalls — particularly Scott and Ruth — had tremendous influence, Lee said.

"They had this vision of what Valencia could become — the paseos, the parks — that came from the Newhalls," Lee said. "They were involved, they made it better because they were constantly reminding us what would make it better."

Marlee Lauffer, a Newhall Land vice president and family friend, recalled a time about six years ago when she and her husband gave Newhall a ride to a party at the Davis home.

"She amused us with stories the whole time, her observations of people, her wit," Lauffer said. "She was a remarkable woman and way ahead of her time in being a true working woman. Yet she cared very deeply about her family — both her husband and children as well as the broader family that she was a part of."

Newhall was born in 1910 in Berkeley. In grammar school, she was chosen to participate in Stanford research that sought the smartest child in the class and the youngest in the class. Ruth was both, her family said.

She entered journalism as secretary to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and later worked for famed columnist Herb Caen before graduating to police beat reporter. From there, she worked as a photographer, an editor and an executive.

In 1933, Ruth left graduate school to marry Scott. Because he was just 19, his mother came to their wedding in Reno to give consent. The couple had three sons, and a daughter who died in childhood.

Newhall returned to Berkeley to teach journalism and also wrote a number of nonfiction books including "A California Legend: A History of the Newhall Land and Farming Company," a critical look at the development company's place in local history.

The Newhalls left the Signal in 1988 in a stock dispute with new owners, but it would be a long time before Ruth ever settled into retirement.

At 78, she and Scott started The Citizen, much in the tradition of their Signal. Back again were the lambasting editorials that were Scott's trademark — and Ruth's "Mimi" gossip column in which no one was sacred.

At 80, she tooled around town in a new, bright red Ford Mustang.

At 84, her old Underwood typewriter tucked away in storage, she enrolled in a computer class.

She was a founding member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and director of the Historical Society of Southern California. She also was active in numerous charities including the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation, the hospital's Home Tour Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club and the College of the Canyons Foundation.

Newhall is survived by sons Skip and Tony of Valencia and Jon of Oakland, five grandchildren, three step-grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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