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Pat Yarborough: reporter, loving mother and grandmother

Reporter, loving mother and grandmother

Longtime COURIER reporter Patricia “Pat” Lee Yarborough died on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at the Pilgrim Place Health Center. She was 80.

She was born on December 12, 1934 in Riverside to Clifton and Leona McCasland. Her parents had come to California from the dustbowl area of Arkansas and settled in the Coachella Valley, where Mr. McCasland worked as a ranch manager on a raisin farm and later for the Coachella Water District.

Young Pat had a reporter’s heart early on, serving as editor of her newspaper at Coachella Valley High School. After she graduated in 1952, she attended UCLA. That summer, her family rented a cabin in the Eastern Sierra at Lake George near Mammoth. Mutual friends introduced her to a UCLA graduate named Gordon Yarborough, whose uncle owned the Tamarack Lodge at Twin Lakes.

Ms. Yarborough halted her studies after they married in May of 1953, but would remain an ardent Bruins booster for the rest of her life. Mr. Yarborough was on active duty in the Navy, serving on an aircraft carrier. They lived in San Francisco, Long Beach and Hawaii, where their daughter Janet was born in 1955, before settling in Pomona. The couple welcomed three more children, Terry in 1954, Julie in 1958 and Dan in 1963.

During the kids’ growing-up years, Mr. Yarborough worked for General Telephone and was in the Navy Reserve, eventually retiring as a captain. Pat was a homemaker and an enthusiastic participant in her children’s activities.

She served as editor of the PTA newsletter at Montvue in Pomona where the kids attended elementary school, and was leader of her daughter Janet’s Camp Fire Girls troop. She was proud of her son Terry’s efforts as a sports photographer for the Pomona High School newspaper and cheered for her son Dan’s endeavors on the track teams in high school and at Humboldt State University.

The Yarboroughs loved following the exploits of the UCLA football team and would host game-watching parties, fanning the flames of rivalry by inviting friends whose allegiance was with the USC Trojans. Ms. Yarborough was also a true-blue Dodger fan, who venerated play-by-play announcer Vin Scully.

The Yarboroughs continued to pay homage to their meeting by taking their family camping in Mammoth at Lake George every year. They would stay a couple weeks, with Ms. Yarborough fishing for hours at a time, catching more trout than anyone and frying it up for supper.

When her youngest son Dan left for college, Ms. Yarborough took journalism classes at Mt. San Antonio College and worked on the Mounty newspaper, winning several awards. In 1983, she was hired as a reporter with the COURIER newspaper, joining the team helmed by late publisher Martin Weinberger and then managing editor Peter Weinberger. Her duties included covering the sports and education beats. She also wrote obituaries, viewing a well-written obit as the perfect short story. “My father and I always appreciated her straightforward, high-standards approach to her writing,” said Peter Weinberger. “She was also one of the few people Martin would really trust managing the paper in his absence.”

“I challenge anybody not to find something of interest in a person’s life. Sometimes you have to dig for it, but it’s always there,” Ms. Yarborough said in a 2005 COURIER profile.

Citrus College Trustee Sue Keith got to know Ms. Yarborough when she was doing public relations at Pitzer and CGU. Ms. Keith recalls entering the COURIER office and encountering a bastion of old-school journalism.

“Pat’s desk would be piled high with news releases and pages and Marty was the same way. You could only see the top of his head. They used those ancient typewriters that had those little coin-like letters.”

They grew to be friends, with Ms. Yarborough providing support when Ms. Keith was battling breast cancer, accompanying her several times to treatment.

“Pat had her feisty side, but she was an amazingly loyal friend,” Ms. Keith said. “She was also extraordinarily dedicated to education. She reported the bad and the good about the schools, but she loved to report the positive things that were happening for the kids in the community.” 

COURIER editor Kathryn Dunn met Pat in 1993, when she took on a part-time position with the paper selling classified ads.

“Pat seemed like a very serious person because she was such a serious reporter,” Ms. Dunn said. “Once you spent a little time with her, however, you realized she was fairly playful. She had a good sense of humor and didn’t take the news too seriously. She liked to laugh.”

When Ms. Dunn became editor of the COURIER in 2007, Ms. Yarborough was characteristically good-natured. “Pat had such confidence in me, more than I had in myself. She threw me her support,” Ms. Dunn recalled. “But she also continued to call me ‘twerp,’ which I liked.”

The job brought Ms. Yarborough a number of memorable experiences, including traveling with fellow COURIER writer Brenda Bolinger to Las Vegas, New Mexico, a small town 65 miles east of Santa Fe, for an obituary conference. It was a chance to mingle with peers from across the country and beyond who shared a quirky avocation.

“We enjoyed getting to know these interesting people and picking their brains about their approach to obits. There were a number of activities built into the conference, and we trekked to them all,” Ms. Bolinger recalled. “We were also roommates and we were kind of like schoolgirls. There were two double beds in the room and we stayed up and talked into the night.”

Another highlight of Ms. Yarborough’s career took place in 2004, when she got the chance to interview South African bishop Desmond Tutu just weeks before it was announced that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the anti-apartheid movement.

In 1995, Gordon died of cancer. Ms. Yarborough missed him deeply but found comfort in friends and family and among the congregation of the Claremont Presbyterian Church. Her final years were also enlivened by the companionship a golden retriever named Holly, a lost dog who found a forever home with Pat.

Ms. Yarborough continued her work for the COURIER, winning the Claremont Unified School District’s Richard S. Kirkendall Award for her consistent and accurate coverage of schools. She traveled regularly to visit her son and grandchildren in Bishop, always bringing back fresh-baked bread or coffee cake from Schat’s Bakery.

She also developed a number of interests, including a deepening fascination with space exploration as she covered the story of Claremonter Leo Bister and his association with the Mars Rover program. Through this shared interest, and their longtime association with the American Red Cross, Ms. Yarborough developed a decades-long friendship with Leo and his wife Rosie.

“She was really a very endearing person who loved giving everyone a window to look through,” Ms. Bister said. “She was so perfect in her way of portraying her community.”

Another of Ms. Yarborough’s enthusiasms was Cable Airport. She covered the annual Cable Aire Faire and the Young Eagle Program where young people are taken on flights to encourage an interest in piloting. She helped coordinate the airport’s Special Program for Special People day, an event giving disabled students an up-close look at aviation. Pat also became a regular at the airport restaurant Maniac Mike’s. 

Ms. Yarborough enjoyed spending time with one of her best buddies, Howard Bunte, a longtime El Roble Intermediate School teacher and pilot who shared Pat’s love for Cable and appreciated her interest in transportation of every ilk. “She saw it as people trying to stretch what is possible by working together,” he said. She soon picked up on Mr. Bunte’s enthusiasm for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a 64-mile-long narrow gauge railroad dating to the late 19th century and running between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado.

Pat had always been a ready traveler. Over the course of her son’s career in seasonal firefighting and forestry, Dan has lived and worked in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado and Utah as well as California. Ms. Yarborough visited him in every location. She also accompanied Mr. Bunte to New Mexico three times, joining in railroad preservation efforts. She rolled up her sleeves and got dirty, helping the volunteers with painting and scraping.

Shortly before retiring in 2005, Ms. Yarborough made her status as an honorary Claremonter official, moving into a condo in the City of Trees. She remained on the COURIER staff as a reporter-at-large, filling in for a vacationing reporter and writing obituaries at the personal request of Claremont families.

In the months preceding her death, Ms. Yarborough wrote obituaries for friends, penned an article on a talk by noted sportswriter Bill Dwyre and provided regular updates on her pet causes like Cable events, the Gold Line and Red Cross blood drives, and the preservation and improvement of the city’s cemetery as a longtime board member of the Friends of Oak Park Cemetery. Up to the end, Pat kept a reporter’s notebook by her bedside, jotting down her thoughts, the names of visitors and reminders to notify the COURIER of events she considered coverage-worthy.  

She is survived by her son Terry Yarborough and his wife Joyce; by her daughter Janet Siedschlag; by her daughter Julie Walters and her husband John; and by her son Dan. She also leaves grandchildren Sarah, Christine, Jamie, Gordon, Mia, Clifton and Haley.

Memorial services will be held Saturday, April 4 at 1 p.m. at the Claremont Presbyterian Church, 1111 N. Mountain Ave.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Friends of the Oak Park Cemetery or to the Cable Airport Foundation, 1749 W. 13th St., Upland CA 91786.  

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