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Dana B. Fisher; Leader on Agribusiness, Water Issues

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dana Bartlett Fisher, a California agribusiness leader who worked for water and land use rights, and a lifelong aviator who helped make TWA an international airline, has died at 81.

Fisher, who headed Fisher Ranch Corp., Hi Value Processors, Lettuce Processors and KingFisher Corp., died Sunday in Blythe, said his daughter, Bonnie Fisher.

His Palo Verde Valley ranch of more than 4,000 acres grows lettuce, cotton, alfalfa and various vegetables. Fisher, who began the ranching operation with his late father, attorney and Los Angeles Airport Commissioner Wayne Fisher, continued it with his own son, Bart. Dana and Bart Fisher were also partners in Fisher Communications and Fisher Wireless Services.

Dana Fisher was a protector of Palo Verde Valley growers’ rights to water from the nearby Colorado River. When the Metropolitan Water District, which provides water to most Southern California households, sought in the mid-1980s to pay farmers to leave land fallow and turn over the water for residential use, Fisher rejected the idea as financially unappealing. But a decade later, as lettuce and other prices fell sharply, Fisher cautiously watched some colleagues take pay for their water allotments in a two-year experiment.

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“Our valley’s first and best water rights on the river are in serious jeopardy,” Fisher warned in 1993 as head of the Palo Verde Irrigation District’s board of trustees, referring to a related long-range water plan by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Fisher served on the Commission for the Californias, which dealt with Colorado River water and other problems affecting the state and Baja California in Mexico. He also cofounded and served 10 years as president of the California Lettuce Research Board.

Born in Los Angeles, Fisher was one in a line of several generations who helped develop Southern California. His maternal grandfather, Dana Bartlett, was a minister who wrote a book titled “The Better City,” which called for a culturally diverse and socially equitable future for Los Angeles.

His paternal grandfather, Walter Harrison Fisher, was a businessman with interests in the Signal Hill oil field, and his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Fisher, was a philanthropist and arts patron who established USC’s Fisher Gallery. His father, Wayne Fisher, helped select the site for Los Angeles International Airport.

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Educated at Pomona College, Dana Fisher traveled widely with his family and by age 16 had visited 100 countries. A flier like his father, he joined TWA and in the late 1940s worked in Cairo to develop feeder routes for TWA throughout Africa and the Middle East. There, he met his wife of 51 years, the former Time Life correspondent Elizabeth Sarafian.

When he joined his father for the ranching operation, Fisher set out to expand the use of scientific research in agriculture, particularly relating to water and land use. He eventually served as agriculture advisor to the University of California and UC Riverside.

In addition to his wife, Fisher is survived by their four children, Bart, Sally, Bonnie and Wendy, and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for July 24 at 2 p.m. in the United Community Methodist Church in Blythe.

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The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Ernest Rosenbaum Cancer Research Fund, Mt. Zion Health Systems, 3330 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94118.


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