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Doris Walker-Smith dies at 78; Dana Point historian

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Like Richard Henry Dana Jr., who described the towering coastal bluffs of Dana Point and the bay below as "the only romantic spot" on the California coast in his 1840 classic "Two Years Before the Mast," Doris Walker-Smith fell in love with the area when she and her husband and infant son first moved there in 1963.

A native of Cleveland who had lived in the Los Angeles area for three years before moving to Orange County, Walker-Smith not only loved the place named after Dana, she also felt compelled to write about it.

Her 1981 book "Dana Point Harbor/Capistrano Bay: Home Port for Romance" is considered the definitive history of the area.

It was the first of several books she wrote about her new hometown and only part of her extensive writing about a place where she became known as the "keeper of Dana Point history."

"All along I have seen the romance of the area, and I have done what I can to enhance that image," she said in a 1988 interview with the Orange County Register.

Walker-Smith, 78, died Oct. 31 at UCI Medical Center in Orange as a result of trauma sustained in a fire that destroyed her home in Dana Point the previous day, said Blair Walker, one of her two sons.

The fire, which officials said was accidental, also claimed the life of her 81-year-old second husband, Jack Pierson Smith, a retired Marine Corps major.

"Everyone was shocked by her death," said Carlos N. Olvera, president of the Dana Point Historical Society, which Walker-Smith founded in 1987.

Olvera, who considered Walker-Smith his mentor as a local historian, said she was "a living part of the history of Dana Point."

After moving into the town's first housing tract development with her family in 1963, Walker-Smith handled public relations for Dana Point Harbor when it opened in 1971.

Known professionally as Doris I. Walker, she also conceived and organized the first Festival of Whales Parade in 1972, a small harbor event for young children that grew to become a large motorized parade down Coast Highway to the center of town.

In addition to her 1981 history of Dana Point, which is still in print, she wrote other books on the area: "Images of America: Dana Point," "Adventurer's Guide to Dana Point" and "The Whales of Capistrano Bay."

But her historical interests extended beyond the city limits.

Among her other books are "Orange County: A Centennial Celebration: Sections of Orange," "Orange County Then & Now," "Orange County: A Natural History," "Orange County Adventures With Children," "Mission Viejo: The Ageless Land," and "The Heritage of San Clemente."

Walker-Smith was a longtime member of the Orange County Historical Commission, a director of the Dana Point Historical Society and a former board member of the San Juan Capistrano and Orange County historical societies.

She also wrote a bimonthly history column for the Dana Point Times and wrote for other local newspapers over the years.

Local history, Olvera said, "was her passion," something she shared not only through her writing but also through her frequent talks to various organizations in South Orange County.

Walker-Smith, who also taught California history at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and at Irvine Valley College, was named citizen of the year by the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce in 2007.

Born in Cleveland on Aug. 18, 1933, she received a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from what is now known as Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

In addition to Brent and Blair Walker, her sons from her first marriage, which ended in divorce, Walker-Smith is survived by her brother, Alan Isaak, and a granddaughter.

A celebration of her life will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Dana Point Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo St.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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