Queen mother of the roses dies at 95

Deepa Bharath

Holly Halsted Balthis was like the "Queen Mum" for Rose Queens.

It makes sense. Until last week, she was the oldest surviving Rose

Queen. And for 73 years, Rose Queens looked up to Balthis as their

glorious predecessor.

Balthis died on Friday of natural causes at her home in Laguna

Beach. She was 95.

But until Balthis' last breath, she took pride in her role as an

emissary for the annual Tournament of Roses, her son Frank Balthis

Jr. said.

"Being Rose Queen was an integral part of her life," he said.

Holly Halsted Balthis participated in almost all programs

associated with the famed event and encouraged other former Rose

Queens to maintain their relationship with the event, said Nancy

Skinner, a Newport Beach resident who was Rose Queen in 1952.

"She made a point of pulling us and keeping us together," she

said. "She had a great fondness for the Tournament of Roses, and she

was just a wonderful spokesperson for it."

Holly Halsted Balthis encouraged other Rose Queens to relive their

glory days by attending events they were invited to as former queens,

Skinner said.

"She was always upbeat and effervescent," she said. "No one ever

saw her as old. She was 95, but she still drove herself to every

party and luncheon. She was a queen mother to all of us."

Holly Halsted Balthis, originally from Los Angeles, moved to

Newport Beach in 1957 with her husband, Frank Balthis, a Los Angeles

County Superior Court judge. The couple lived in Bayshores but moved

to Laguna Beach in 1972.

Holly Halsted Balthis' love affair with the Tournament of Roses

began when she worked a part-time job at its office as a student at

UCLA.

They gave her $10 to buy the material for a dress. She designed

and made it with her mother's help. And for her court, the young Rose

Queen chose a bunch of her high school friends.

"Things have changed quite a bit now," Tournament of Roses

President David Davis said with a laugh.

Now the queens get a wardrobe of designer clothes and attend up to

150 events in the three months leading up to the Rose Parade on New

Year's Day. Incidentally, the dress meant so much to Holly Halsted

Balthis that she wore it on her wedding day.

But being Rose Queen even in those simple days, without the fuss

and the media attention, meant a lot to Holly Halsted Balthis, said

Anne Wortmann, Lido Isle resident and 1976 Rose Queen.

"She was very charismatic," she said. "You always knew when she

was in the room. She took part in everything and took charge."

Holly Halsted Balthis was active and had television interviews

scheduled as recently as two weeks before her death, Frank Balthis

Jr. said.

"She enjoyed meeting people and talking to people," he said. "It's

not like she'd talk about herself. But she'd want to find out about

them and what they do."

She also liked to talk to young people, Frank Balthis Jr. said.

"She'd talk to kids on skateboards and skim boards," he said.

"She'd want to know what makes them tick."

An outgoing person who loved to party with people of all ages,

Holly Halsted Balthis always looked her best. She was dressed

impeccably and her demeanor was ever gracious and pleasant.

She loved life, her son said.

"She lived life to the fullest," he said. "It was like she loved

life too much to let go."

A Celebration of Life is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday at the

Laguna Beach United Methodist Church at 21632 Wesley Drive in Laguna

Beach. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials in her

name be made to the Living Desert Reserve at 47/900 Portola Ave.,

Palm Desert, CA 92260; or Friends of the Dana Point Library at 22841

Niguel Road, Dana Point, CA 92629; or the Laguna Beach United

Methodist Church.

* DEEPA BHARATH is the enterprise and general assignment reporter.

She may be reached at (949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at

deepa.bharath@latimes.com.

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