Piece of Mind: Remembering Prince Philip's visit to La Cañada

Sometime between last week's musings about bears freely roaming our neighborhoods and Sunday's closing ceremony of the London Summer Olympics, I came across a nearly 30-year-old account of a visit to La Cañada by a member of the British royal family who was here to talk about wildlife conservation.

Yes, in the very shadow of the hills at least one of our bear friends frequents today, Great Britain's Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was, in September 1982, the star attraction at a benefit dinner held at Descanso Gardens in support of the World Wildlife Fund.

The prince, today 91 and reportedly in the hospital battling a bladder infection for the second time this summer, was 61 at the time of that visit to the Southland. He gained a fair share of attention from the media that week, although it certainly paled in comparison to more recent visits by members of his family.

The L.A. Times gave the duke's visit, which included a variety of tours and meetings, extensive coverage. Perhaps that was because Otis Chandler, then Times Mirror's chairman, and his wife, Bettina, were co-chairing the La Cañada gala. (So were actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria, and Arco chairman William Kieschnick and his wife, Keith.)

Readers of The Times' advance coverage of Prince Philip's visit learned that his royal highness did not like champagne, strawberries or shellfish. It's unclear from the reports whether any of those items appeared on the menu for the 500 guests who paid $250 a plate and turned out in black tie to meet the man during his evening at Descanso.

It was initially reported that singer-songwriter John Denver would perform during the program, but the benefit chairmen learned days ahead of his participation that while Denver was volunteering his services at no charge, it would cost them $30,000 to provide him with the musical backing and acoustical system he required. So his performance was scratched, and the organizers brought in strolling violinists instead.

The Valley Sun's report of the event said Prince Philip arrived in a Rolls-Royce that quickly whisked him past a small group of demonstrators “waving obscene placards.” Alas, exactly what was on those posters was not reported, nor do we learn who the demonstrators were. Perhaps 30 years ago the unidentified writer felt it would be somehow unseemly to report in any more detail the brief discord during the royal visit.

The Times' society editor, Jody Jacobs, made no mention of the demonstrators in her coverage of the dinner. Instead, she opined that the local setting was the “perfect choice,” because of “its masses of azaleas and camellias and lush greenery.” She wrote that the Hollywood set was represented here not only by the Stewarts, but by Cary and Barbara Grant, Veronique and Gregory Peck, and Joseph and Pat Cotton.

Jacobs reported that in the duke's remarks to the guests gathered at the Descanso dinner, he said, “the world would not be worth living in if we did not have trees … frogs … grass.” I think he was preaching to the choir there. I can imagine a bear lumbering around the Flintridge hills that night and knocking over a trash can in ursine approval.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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