Born in Madison, SD on April 15, 1928. Don showed early signs of his independent nature when he traveled alone on the train from his birthplace to join his parents in California at the age of 13. Later, he showed early signs of his prudence when swore off politics after he lost the race for Student Body President after his first semester at Delano High School. Politics was about the only career Don Pitts did not pursue, however. He was a pre-med major at UCLA
, then joined the U.S. Army
as a paratrooper, only to be drawn by his love of the mountains to obtain a degree in Logging Engineering from Oregon State. He served three seasons as a smoke jumper and worked as a Forester before attending Boalt Law School at the University of California, Berkeley to start a career in law. Don worked in the DA's office in Porterville and then in Fresno, established a private practice, found time be a Scout Master and to raise four children, all before being appointed the Federal Magistrate Judge for Yosemite National Park in 1975. Soon after becoming a judge he married Kay Keim Tolladay. Kay was the love of Don's life, and he the love of hers. You'd be hard pressed to find a picture of Don taken in the past 33 years that doesn't include him smiling at, or kissing Kay. Their love was obvious and a joy for all to witness. In his 18 years on the Federal Bench, "the Judge" was known for his skepticism for the well-fashioned fabrication, for his kindness to court neophytes and for his "Bailiff" - a 160 pound Rottweiler who often accompanied him to court. In addition to his love for Kay and his family, hiking, skiing and Yosemite Park, one of Don's great joys in life was performing weddings. Hundreds of couples will remember personalized ceremonies in even the most obscure Sierra location, as the man in a colorful vest and bolo tie started them on their married lives. During his years in Yosemite, Don established the Cross Country division of the Yosemite Winter Club. Generations of cross country skiers finished an Ostrander Hut or trans-Sierra ski trip in Don and Kay's wine barrel hot tub, where he could be seen sporting his "Ski or Die" cap and little else. Don so loved company and was so generous that his home in Yosemite was always filled with an assortment of friends, relatives, hikers, skiers and climbers. Because he was a true "Mountain Man", even retirement could not persuade Don to leave his beloved Yosemite. Add that to his natural hospitality and Don's final career seems obvious. He and Kay built a Bed and Breakfast, the Yosemite Peregrine, which they successfully ran from 1994 until 2011. Many Yosemite visitors returned time and time again to stay in one of the Peregrine's beautiful rooms and listen to Don's wealth of stories. In 2011, Don and Kay finally moved back to Fresno and into the LaQuerencia Co-Housing community where they lived surrounded by friends until his death at the age of 86, on July 31. Don is survived by his beloved wife, Kay Tolladay Pitts; his children, Donald P. Pitts and wife Roberta Jue of Petaluma, Linda Tolladay and husband Mark Graves of Clovis, Michaela Pitts of Ukiah, Laura Tolladay of Roseville, Ann Acuna of San Francisco, Eric Tolladay and wife Teri Davis-Tolladay of Valley Village, Robert Pitts and wife Nickol of Ahwahnee; 12 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Dale Pitts of Yucaipa, and sister, MaryAnn Block of Evansville, IN. Don's Celebration of Life will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, August 8, 2014, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, 2672 E. Alluvial. Remembrances may be made to KVPT (Valley Public Television), Restore Hetch-Hetchy, or the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno.
Published in the Fresno Bee on Aug. 3, 2014