Obituary: Elisabeth Mott DesCombes
Mother, Sycamore Elementary School librarian, traveler
Elisabeth Mott DesCombes, known as Lis, died unexpectedly at her home on March 26. She was nearing a full recovery from surgery for a spinal infection and was looking forward to returning to her passions: being librarian at Sycamore Elementary School, books in general, and being a friend to many. She was 62.
Lis was born Elisabeth Rhodes Mott on August 17, 1959 in the American hospital in Berlin, West Germany. Her parents, Paul and Susan Mott, worked for the U.S. State Department and were stationed in West Germany during her early childhood.
After Berlin, her childhood years were spent in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Manhattan, New York, until her family settled in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where both of her parents still reside. She attended the Hun School of Princeton as a day student and graduated in 1977.
She attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Massachusetts, majoring in art history, and graduating in 1981. During her junior year she joined her brother Paul at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire on a one year exchange program, where she met her future husband, Jeff DesCombes, a classmate of Paul’s.
After graduation, she moved to Brooklyn, and later, to a Manhattan apartment on 21st St. In 1983 she began dating Jeff, who had recently moved to New York.
While in New York, she took advantage of the museums, theatres and social scene, was an avid squash player, and would often run along the East River Promenade. She worked as a library aid with the New York Public Library, as a paralegal for several Wall Street law firms, and as a benefits manager for Horn and Hardard, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in midtown.
In the summer of 1987 the new couple moved out of the city to Rye, New York. They were married in Lawrenceville, New Jersey on October 10, 1987. The service was held in the chapel of The Lawrenceville School, which her father and brothers attended, and the reception at the Hun School. Prior to moving to the west coast in 1990, the couple lived in Irvington, New York, and Billerica, Massachusetts.
In summer 1990 the couple drove cross-county in their Jeep Wrangler, arriving just in time for her to take a job as assistant paymaster at the L.A. County Fair’s race track. Her husband remembers thinking, “I am not sure her family was very excited about a job at the track!”
In 1991 the couple purchased a home on Seventh St. in Claremont, and thus began her lifelong engagement with the city and its residents. Their family grew, with daughters Margaret, born in 1992, and Kathryn, in 1996. In the mid-1990s, she managed legal and classified advertisements at the Claremont COURIER. Following several years at the COURIER, she took a part time position at Stamp Your Heart Out. Through these two jobs, she established personal relationships with most of the businesspeople and creative types in Claremont. “This sometimes had its downsides, as a simple walk downtown or a quick trip to the farmers’ market often turned into a two hour trip as Lis would stop and ‘catch-up’ with one friend after another, seemingly stopping every 15 to 20 steps to visit with a friend,” her husband said.
In 2008, after working for several years as a daycare substitute for Claremont Unified School District, and after both of her daughters had matriculated through Sycamore Elementary School, she applied for the position of librarian at Sycamore.
The library quickly became her life’s work and passion. She enjoyed working with the students and finding the perfect book to entertain and educate them. She worked to understand each child and their needs, often seeking advice from co-workers and field professionals to better understand their motivations and interests. She immersed herself in children’s literature and was a member of several organizations that supported the work of young adult and children’s and authors and illustrators. She also formed a CUSD librarian group that still meets occasionally to share ideas and discuss each elementary school’s library programming. In addition to the library, she was honored to represent the classified employees at Sycamore as their onsite union representative.
Although regular student library sessions were stopped during the pandemic, she enjoyed working one-on-one with below-grade-level readers through a CUSD reading development program. Among the many things she missed after her back injury and surgical recovery, she missed most working with kids in the Sycamore library.
She loved traveling with friends. Over the years she visited England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Russia. Lori Otto, a friend she often traveled with, said, “She was always so happy when we traveled (as was I). She made friends immediately with all the others on our tours.”
Over her lifetime she also enjoyed pottery, stamp art and scrapbooking, beading and jewelry making, weaving, paper craft, furniture repair, upholstery and woodworking. She was an avid gardener and loved sharing homegrown figs with everyone. She once owned four different types of weaving looms, and taught the students at Sycamore to weave. She was also a member of the Woman’s Club of Claremont, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Auxiliary, Friends of the Claremont Library, and two active book groups.
“Those who knew her would attest, there was far more to Lis than the facts of her life,” her family shared. “However, to attempt to capture her presence in words would be impossible. The DesCombes family expresses deep gratitude to those who have reached out after her passing to share support and stories. It’s been a beautiful reminder to the family: Lis loved as expansively as she was loved.”
She is survived by her mother and father, Paul and Susan Mott of Lawrenceville, New Jersey; sister Stephanie Simons of Hinsdale, Illinois; brothers, Paul Mott III of Houston, Texas, and Andrew Mott of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; husband Jeff and daughters Margaret DesCombes of Denver, and Kathryn DesCombes of Boulder, Colorado; four cousins spread across the states; plus many friends, students, and CUSD families.
A “celebration of Lis” will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28 at the Woman’s Club of Claremont, 343 W. 12th St. Drop in and visit with her friends, students and student families and stay as long as you like. If you enjoy cooking, please bring food to share with others.
In lieu of flowers, donations to celebrate Lis’ life may be made to the Sycamore Elementary Lis Library Fund via check mailed to 225 W. eighth St., Claremont, CA 91711.