By William Hicks
My late mother in law had a saying: “Interested people are interesting.”
Silver Strand community activist Sandra Leonard Starr was interested in people and the world around her, and that made her a tremendously interesting person to know.
It was with deep sadness that my wife and I said our goodbyes to Sandy, as friends called her, during her at-home memorial service on Dec. 13.
Sandra’s warm and witty husband of 45 years, filmmaker Harrison Starr, was a gracious host who allowed guests to share a few words about Sandy, who had died unexpectedly at age 76.
One said you didn’t dare speak ill of Sandy’s friends because she’d put you in your place. Another said “Sandy knew everything.”
Six years ago, Sandy founded the online community newsletter The Silver Strand News (mdrsilverstrandnews.wordpress.com) to help other people stay interested in and informed about local affairs. For this effort she attended community meetings, posted government documents and chronicled neighborhood gatherings.
What made Sandra good at this, said Harrison, is that “First of all she was a scholar, an art historian … who came from a long line of journalists.”
Sandy was born on April 12, 1939, in Washington D.C. Her father was a journalist and her maternal grandfather was an English newspaper owner.
Harrison said Sandy had a rough early childhood after her parents separated, but her father’s second wife — an agent with the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA — created a stable home life that led Sandy to attend Sarah Lawrence College and later earn a master’s degree in art history from Harvard University.
After Harvard she became director of the high-profile Feigen Gallery on New York City’s Madison Avenue, a post that afforded her the opportunity to write a book about the artist Max Ernst.
After Harrison’s work took the couple to Los Angeles, Sandy took charge of the James Corcoran Gallery in Santa Monica — the catalyst for that city’s 1980s art gallery boom — and wrote the book “Lost and Found in California: Four Decades of Assemblage Art.”
Writing was important to Sandy.
The last time that I spoke with her was at a local neighborhood block party about a month before we heard the news of her passing. She locked her eyes intently with mine and said, “Keep up the writing. … It’s important.”
Those words echoed loudly in my mind.
They echo even louder now that she’s gone.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of reading and writing.
According to a 2013 study by the National Institute of Literacy, as many as 32 million American adults — almost 15% of the population — read at a level below basic competency.
How can they participate in society?
After living in Marina del Rey for the past nine years, I really have to wonder.
Allow me to get political for a moment.
In the 1800s, people came to California looking for gold. Now the land itself is as good as gold, and Marina del Rey has become a goldmine — hence all the traffic and overdevelopment.
Marina del Rey is an unincorporated area managed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — five people running the show for 10 million residents spread out over 4,752 square miles. The board conducts its meetings in downtown Los Angeles, and the supervisor elected to represent our district lives all the way in Cerritos.
By contrast, the city of Los Angeles is broken up into 15 geographic council districts. Smaller cities such as Santa Monica and El Segundo have their own city councils made up of people who have to live and conduct business in the immediate vicinity of the neighborhoods they manage.
I don’t think downtown can manage Marina del Rey any better than Sacramento can manage L.A. or Washington D.C. can manage California. Great Britain tried to manage the 13 colonies, and we all know how that turned out!
There always seems to be political strife in areas where leadership doesn’t have to live with the messes they create. People like Sandra Starr helped fill the space between our civil servants and us.
My brother Dan, who earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, helped me connect the dots:
“As a right, the press is a public service in order to promote an informed electorate. It is considered the 4th branch of government by political scientists. Without it, people are not able to make fair and reasonable decisions politically,” he said.
Several people commented during Sandy’s memorial that there is a vacuum now that she’s gone, including the community’s loss of her activist presence and newsletter.
We can honor Sandy’s legacy by recognizing the value of reading and writing as a public service.
Write to William Hicks at email@example.com.
Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed additional biographical research to this column.