Alice O'Neill Avery dies at 97; California landowner, philanthropist

Parts of Alice O'Neill Avery's family ranch were turned into Orange County communities and Camp Pendleton

Alice O'Neill Avery, a landowner and philanthropist who along with her family owned and helped develop a vast swath of south Orange County, has died. She was 97.

Avery, a sixth-generation Californian for whom Alicia Parkway is named, died July 22 of natural causes at her home in Brentwood, her family said.

As a child, Avery lived in Los Angeles but spent much of her time on what was then her family's 230,000-acre ranch, known as Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, parts of which were transformed in her lifetime into the patchwork quilt of master-planned communities that make up large parts of south Orange County, including the cities of Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita.

The land, which members of the family have owned since 1882, was eventually split and much of it became Camp Pendleton. Many acres were also donated and dedicated by the family to be preserved as open space, including the vast hillsides and canyon lands of O'Neill Regional Park, a 4,000-acre park in Trabuco and Live Oak Canyons.

"She was very proud of her California heritage," said her son Anthony R. Moiso, who runs Rancho Mission Viejo, the family's remaining 23,000-acre property. "She loved the ranch; she loved the blessing it was."

Throughout her life, Avery was a passionate supporter of various charitable causes including several Catholic charities and local historical societies, and taught her children to value charitable giving, Moiso said.

Alice Marguerite O'Neill Avery was born Jan. 28, 1917, to Richard O'Neill Jr. and Marguerite "Daisy" Moore in Los Angeles and was raised in L.A. and Beverly Hills. Her paternal grandfather, Irish immigrant Richard O'Neill Sr., and a business partner purchased Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores in 1882, when the property extended from Mission Viejo to Oceanside.

Avery attended Marymount High School and Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. She was married twice, in 1938 to James Robert Moiso, and in 1951 to Waldo A. Avery, and had three children, Anthony R. Moiso, James J. Moiso and Douglas Waldo Avery.

She was also known for her extensive collections of antiques, dolls and doll houses. In 2007 her vast doll collection was exhibited in the Los Rios Historic District in San Juan Capistrano.

"I have so many collections that I even have Windsor chairs — that kind of thing," she told The Times in 1998. "I love them all, but I'm having a terrible time because I'm getting older and thinking, 'Who's going to get what?'"

Avery is survived by her three sons, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

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