Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine History Article September 2008.
Searching For Peggy Connolly
By Lauren Coodley
The Connolly Ranch is quietly and effectively offering us a last sensory impression of rural life in a rapidly subdividing Napa. The lowing of its cows, the murmurs of its chickens, the bleating of its baby goats, graces Browns Valley with the, sounds– and scents!– of a bygone era. I’ve been curious for years as to how it got saved as a public resource by its last occupant, Peggy Connolly. Harold Kelly, local environmental advocate, told me:
“Her family owned the ranch. Her dad bought it. I knew Helen, older sister, and Peggy, the last remaining sister. They visited the ranch regularly as children and young adults; it was their summer place. Sometime in Sixties, the sisters moved fulltime to the ranch. I was active in the Browns Valley Area; Helen got involved with the neighborhood association. Her sister Peggy was supportive of things we were working on, sent a small donation. Along with me, they were among the original signers of Measure J. When I got to know Peggy Connolly, I enjoyed listening to her as she spoke of how much pleasure she got from watching children feed her animals. She told me she would like to see children continue to learn about farm life, and left her property to The Land Trust telling me, ‘Do what is right.’ She died a few months later.”
The last article about Connolly Ranch was published in 2004, and it refers to Marilyn Warnock, family friend. When I called Marilyn in Rio Vista, she told me that Peggy had attended Cal Berkeley with her mother and aunt. Peggy, a juvenile probation officer, and Helen, a court reporter, grew up in San Francisco, where their father was a pharmacist. As adults, the sisters lived in a Telegraph Hill apartment. After their retirements, they moved to the ranch.
When Marilyn and her sister Lorie’s parents moved to the Veterans home, they visited the Connolly sisters frequently; Marilyn kept the family horse, Cookie, at the farm. She also remembers: “a sweet little dog named Miss Mitzie, who ruled the roost… the fantastic library and wonderful old furniture, and lots of potlucks, sitting under the oak tree.”
Lorie Saxon, Marilyn’s sister, told me:
“When I was in college, I spent time up at the ranch, taking a semester off from Cal. Peggy and Helen were very special and unusual people. You knew that after knowing them for five minutes. I remember them as being unusually intelligent women, something I was always looking for. Always a step or two ahead, Peggy looked like an Irish colleen, with a lovely smile.”
I asked her to describe a typical day at the Ranch. Saxon describes it this way:
“I always thought of it as the Chisholm Trail, going up to the house. They wore pants and sweaters and housedresses and, if it was a hot day, they offered iced tea or iced coffee. Then they broke out highballs on the porch. They had donkeys and cats. They were very, very opinionated and had wonderful senses of humor. They would be so happy to know that someone appreciated them.”
Marilyn and Lorie’s brother, Roger Andrews, wrote:
“Peggy and Helen, our ‘bogus aunts’ as they often called themselves, probably left many friends and admirers but likely no real enemies, and precious few of any of them are still alive. Peggy and Helen were, in some ways, larger than life figures. They were smart – maybe brilliant. They were plain-spoken, no-nonsense women who could – and did – take on anyone who crossed them. With their brother and father, and those who worked for them occasionally at the ranch, I recall them as caring and compassionate. With just about everyone else (us included), they were a bit rough and tumble, none too careful about their language, yet always ready for a good laugh, and always good hearted with a strong sense of fairness.”
Peggy Connolly died in l99l. The enormous oak tree–which Lorie Saxon describes as the “biggest I’ve ever seen in my life–was struck by lightning in the late Nineties. I’ve been walking my dog outside the ranch for the last six years, listening at dusk for the sounds of the geese and the chickens, imagining this land back before the traffic. Lately, I’ve been watching my grandson and hundreds of other children excitedly jostle to feed the sheep and the goats. For these children, who will probably never get to live on a farm, Peggy and Helen’s is a living legacy, an act of great love for the future children, in a world they would never see.
My thanks to Carolyn Fruchtenicht, Harold Kelly, Marilyn Warnock, Lori Saxon, and Roger Andrews for their assistance in restoring the Connollys to us. I hope to share some of their photographs, and other memories from readers, in a future article.