Venice community activist Dede Audet leaves a legacy of service … and speaking her mind

By Gary Walker

Dede Audet in the 1940s and on the Venice Boardwalk in 2010

The indefatigable Dede Audet, one of Venice’s most prominent and most widely respected local activists, died Aug. 31 of congestive heart failure. She was 98.

As president of the Venice Neighborhood Council from 2004 to 2008 and a founding member of the Venice Town Council that preceded it, Audet earned repute as a community leader who did not mince words and a force to be reckoned with in local affairs.

Among her many causes, Audet went to bat for tenants facing eviction from the Lincoln Place Apartments, fought a massive residential development planned for what’s now the Costco on Washington Boulevard, and led the charge against destroying homes to link the 90 Freeway directly to Pacific Coast Highway.

More recently, Audet could often be spotted tooling around Venice on her motorized mobility scooter and offering public comments during neighborhood council meetings.

“She was a real pot-stirrer,” said former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who knew Audet for nearly three decades and visited Audet two days before her passing. “What a great friend she was. She led a really juicy life.”

Born Thelma Payne Smead in Portland, Ore., in 1920, Audet graduated from Venice High School and went to work at Hughes Aircraft Co. on the recommendation of an aunt who shared her name, an Olympic springboard diver who was teaching Howard Hughes to swim.

“She was hired to work on a radar system, which ended up becoming part of their missile guidance system. From there she went on to become a technical writer and eventually published her own manual on technical writing,” said Brian McKenney, one of Audet’s two sons. Audet also worked as an industrial photographer who helped create instruction manuals for the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, he said.

In the 1950s Audet and her children moved to Venice, where she met second husband Earle Audet, a retired professional football player who helped awaken her political activism.

“She was interested in national, state and local politics, but her true love was Venice,” said Elizabeth Wright, a longtime friend and neighbor of Audet in the Oxford Triangle neighborhood.

In 2010, then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa honored Audet as a “True Angel” — an official civic award he created to recognize the city’s most dedicated volunteers.

Though a proud Republican, Audet worked hand-in-hand and in support of Democratic lawmakers, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter.

Bowen, a Democrat, said Audet had mastered the lost art of looking beyond a person’s political party affiliation to understand who people really are.

“That’s what was so admirable about her,” Bowen said. “When she told me she planned to support me in my first run for office, she said, ‘I like you. You’ll do a good job because you’re honest.’’’

Wright said voter participation was a cornerstone of Audet’s personal belief system, but “what people really liked about her was her sensibility and her reasoning, and how she stayed above the fray.”

“She was a truth-teller,” Brian McKenney added. “At times as a young man it was pretty hard to take, but now I see the benefit.”

Audet is also survived by son Steven McKenney and two grandchildren. Per her wishes, Audet will be cremated and her ashes will be scattered at sea in Santa Monica Bay.