Our Laguna: A three-time mayor is given the crystal gavel

If the third time is the charm, Elizabeth Pearson is the charmer.

Pearson's third term as mayor of Laguna Beach was honored Feb. 4 by the Laguna Beach Woman's Club. She swears there won't be a fourth term — but that's not what her supporters want to hear.

To the tune of "Where or When," Bree Burgess Rosen sang lyrics written by Chris Quilter titled "Elizabeth, You'll be Mayor Again."

"It seems I've stood and sung like this before

"I think 'Liz'beth Pearson was the mayor then

"But I can't remember where or when.

"Those retro outfits we still adore

"I think there was a landslide and a husband then,

"But I can't remember where or when

"Some things that happened for the first time

"Just go on happening again

"And so this lunch we will repeat once more

"Same bunch once more

"Will munch once more

For she'll be mayor again."

Quilter said in time Pearson will forgive him for the lyrics that put him further in her debt.

The debt includes selling him her cottage in North Laguna and her dedication to the construction of the Susi Q for Laguna Seniors, a group which he heads.

He not only owes her, he admires her.

"She could have succeeded on a much larger stage [than Laguna], but she threw in her lot with us, and I am grateful," Quilter said.

Quilter was among the folks at the luncheon who spoke of their regard for Pearson.

"Thank you all for being here," said club President Gayle Waite. "I know how much we all want to extend our thanks to Elizabeth. She's a keeper."

Appreciation was voiced by colleagues and friends, many of them seated at the head table with Pearson: former Mayor Cheryl Kinsman, Waste Management's Michelle Clarke, Orange County Building Assn. Executive Director Kris Thalman, former Chamber of Commerce President Dave Sanford and his partner, Steve Dotorotos, Deborah and Godfather Cody Engle, Carey Glenn and Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson.

"I got to know her at the time of the landslide in 2005," Johnson said. "We were at El Morro Trailer Park and the temperature was about 105 and she was tearing around looking for four trailers [for temporary housing for survivors].

"Then she asked me to be her campaign manager."

Card-carrying Democrat Johnson sought the advice of fellow Democrat, Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who advised her to go for it.

"The first thing I told Elizabeth is we have to get volunteers to address envelopes," Johnson said.

Pearson gave her a look and explained that she hired a company to do that.

Volunteer catering for fundraisers? Ditto.

Next shock — Pearson handed her an envelope with a check inside.

"I asked her what that was for," Johnson said. "She told me, 'I wouldn't have you work this hard and not pay you.'

"I realized then that working for Republicans really is different."

Pearson introduced the head table, mentioning that Laguna Beach County Water District Commissioner Susan Trager, an attorney, would have been seated there if not in trial.

"Elizabeth needs a table double that size," said Cindy Prewitt, founder of Laguna Beach Live!, of which board Pearson is a member.

Iseman made the official city presentation.

"I have a lot of whereases," Iseman said.

They included acknowledgement of Pearson's tireless efforts to improve Lagunans' quality of life, the 12 years she spent making the Susi Q a reality, her leadership in securing $34 million to help pay for the restoration of Bluebird Canyon, which involved going hat-in-hand to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and establishing a disaster fund, which will help Laguna recover from the December floodings.

On a personal note, Iseman said, "She has an I.Q. that could boil water. She is not just a pretty face."

Councilman Kelly Boyd, who was honored last year for his term as mayor in 2009, said he had been told he couldn't roast the guest of honor.

"Too bad, I've got the mic," Boyd said. "Elizabeth loves being on the council; she just doesn't like going to meetings."

He said in closed sessions, she is always complaining about being tired, being too busy, being tired, needing a job, being tired.

"You have done so much for the city; you deserve to be tired," Boyd said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly said some heated discussions have been held in those closed sessions.

"But most often, Elizabeth sees the commonality," Egly said. "Thank you for that, the good humor, the good hair and the terrible jokes."

Southern native, Southern charm

Although a Lagunatic to the core, Pearson never forgets her Southern roots. She visits her family's farm in North Carolina, where she milks cows. But she cleans up nicely and favors wearing hats to luncheon, while planning her strategy to promote new and re-invigorated businesses in town, better senior outreach and, always, more parking.

"I like to say she has the sweet Southern drawl of Olivia De Havilland playing Melanie in 'Gone With the Wind,' plus the inner steel of the 'Iron Lady,' Margaret Thatcher," said Francine Scinto, who chaired the luncheon.

Scinto presented Pearson with a crystal gavel, emblematic of two of the councilwoman's dominant traits.

Not that she is all sweetness and light. Pearson can be a bulldog — well ,maybe never that inelegant, but really determined when she is on a mission.

Another of Pearson's talents is singing. Early arrivals at the luncheon were treated to a rendition of "Amazing Grace" by Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda, Burgess Rosen and Pearson. They were accompanied by Carol Reynolds, who had just come home the night before from an aborted trip to Egypt, where she had spent the previous week holed up in a hotel in Alexandria.

"This was the best thing for me to be with friends (and a most welcome sight for them)," said Reynolds.

Mission Hospital at Laguna Beach representative Justin McIntee, Martha Lydick, Laguna Playhouse Managing Director Karen Wood and Matt Lawson also spoke at the luncheon.

"One of the best things about being on the council, besides getting things done, is all the people we get to meet and the fun we have," Pearson said. "And we do have fun."

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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