Rancho Santa Fe loses a legend. Tom Clotfelter, likely the oldest living Covenant resident, was born at the Juan Maria Osuna adobe in 1932 to Reg and Connie Clotfelter who had come to Rancho Santa Fe at the request of Reg's uncle U.T. Clotfelter, an attorney for the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company, to sell land to prospective gentlemen farmers. Life on the Ranch then was spartan but a dream come true for a boy that would become one of San Diego's finest conservationists. Tom grew up exploring, hiking and fishing throughout the lagoons, canyons and creeks of the San Dieguito and San Elijo Lagoons. After attending elementary school on the Ranch, Tom went to San Dieguito High School where he lettered in Swimming and Track in addition to being a seal bearer. During the summers of 1947-1950 Tom worked as a San Diego County lifeguard covering Del Mar to Carlsbad before heading off to college at Stanford University.|
While Tom was growing up in the Ranch, his parents would play critical leadership roles in establishing so many of the social and cultural institutions that exist today. Connie would co-found the Country Friends, the RSF Book Club and the RSF Library Guild, while Reg would co-found the Supper Club, Los Ancianos, and the RSF Rotary Club, and serve on the Santa Fe Water District Board for 25 years, initiate the development of the RSF sewer plant, and serve on the County Planning Committee alongside Paul Ecke Sr. of Encinitas and Hershel Larrick of Solana Beach. Last but not least, Reg Clotfelter played a major role in ensuring that the golf course stayed alive by convincing the SFLIC to forgive the burgeoning debt associated with a lack of residents in the 1930's and early 40's. This 'service above self' culture in the Clotfelter home made a deep impression on Tom as people knew him as one who had embodied the traits so easily found in a bygone era: politeness, service, loyalty and a deep personal pride and satisfaction in doing any job or task that needed to be done with vigor and enthusiasm. Tom, like both his parents, had a deep desire to make others feel welcome and was truly a natural rainmaker, having the innate confidence to introduce those who had common interests and bring groups of people together to create world-class camaraderie for so many to enjoy and relish.
Tom Clotfelter was one of San Diego's biggest conservationists and dedicated himself to leadership roles in several local, regional and national organizations. He spent countless hours of his life in support of one of the largest conservation/environmental groups in the world, Ducks Unlimited, where he served as a National Trustee for more than 20 years and later as Honorary Trustee. DU has conserved more than 13 million acres of habitat throughout North America and has raised nearly $3.5 billion for conservation since 1937. No other conservation or environmental group can match DU's accomplishments on behalf of wetlands and related habitats. Tom Clotfelter and fellow duck commander and Ranch resident, Bill Black, both took critical roles in curating the founding of Ducks Unlimited de Mexico (WWW.DUMAC.ORG).
Tom's passion for the conservation of habitats, game, and wildlife both locally and internationally was truly astounding and one of the most measurable milestones of his remarkable life. As a younger man, Tom enjoyed fishing and hunting in both the San Elijo and San Dieguito lagoons. When the area became too dense for hunting, Tom spent even more time in the lagoons birding. In the late 1960's when east Solana Beach was destined to be developed all the way down to the edge of the lagoon in the form of an additional 700 home subdivision, Tom was invited to join Pete Schroeder, Bob Small, and Eric Lodge to organize a group of like-minded conservationists and establish the first private environmental protection group in San Diego, the San Elijo Alliance. Through hard work and deep fundraising efforts, the San Elijo Lagoon was saved from encroachment and further development. His constant involvement in the San Elijo Lagoon's preservation was linked to a lifetime of enjoying its most simple pleasures: the natural beauty and being able to observe the waterfowl and wildlife in and around the lagoon. Tom would give back to the lagoon all of his adult life by fundraising, advising, and shepherding the evolution of the San Elijo Alliance into the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy and then finally into the San Elijo Lagoon Foundation.
Tom was one of only a handful of American big game hunters who earned a 'Double Grand Slam' of Bighorn sheep, successfully acquiring all five species spanning from Alaska to Mexico in numerous expeditions carried out over 20 years. His intimate knowledge of Bighorn sheep habitats and their necessities motivated Tom to take a leadership role in the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep. Tom co-founded the first bighorn sheep counts in San Diego County in addition to taking an active role in ensuring that Bighorn sheep necessities were funded and constructed in the Anza Borrego National Park and specifically in the Carrizo Gorge. In 2013, a total of 255 sheep were counted, the third highest count in 40 years, which is a true testament to the forward-thinking by those that have dedicated countless hours in the field.
Tom helped establish the remarkable Whelan Lake Bird Sanctuary after the 73-acre property was gifted to the City of Oceanside in 1985. Since 198, Tom has played a major role in the preservation efforts of this pristine property and in the reintroduction of the nearly extinct Wood Duck helping the southern California populations of one of North America's most recognizable and celebrated waterfowl regain stability.
Aside from conserving and protecting habitats, Tom loved a good adventure and spent a fair amount of time with friends exploring the wild landscape of Baja California. Tom's passion for Baja California was contagious and culminated in several annual long-range trips with old friends, worthy newbies and Baja stalwarts like Al Southworth and Dr. Norman Roberts. Tom's trips were part vacation, part expedition and part educational. With a lifetime of relationships built with Mexican ranchers, farmers, fisherman, guides and a president or two, Tom could make anyone feel as though they had just taken the most remote and exciting trip of their life and virtually go anywhere and find an old Mexican friend. The fluidity of these trips was based on Tom's own deep level of accumulated expedition experience and his penchant to explore a little deeper even if it meant enduring countless flat tires and an occasional scuttled vehicle.
Many Ranch fathers and sons were fortunate to have such an experienced 'expeditioner' as their Boy Scout leader. Tom played a major role in allowing the young men of Rancho Santa Fe to experience the rigors, fun, and espirit-de-corps that could only come from challenging field trips. Tom's Boy Scout excursions were the stuff of legend for the local Boy Scouts and were a modern day of Teddy Roosevelt's love of living 'the strenuous life,' from a forced march in the hot and arid Anza Borrego Park to replenish Big Horn sheep water tanks, to a roped ascent to a snow camp in the San Jacinto Mountains in winter, to a four-day canoe trip down the Colorado River. Tom enjoyed allowing young men to experience the thrill and simple pleasures of being alone with one another on an adventure in any climb or place. Some of the Scouting fathers in addition to five others dads with kids in the Ranch (three of which had authentic WWII vehicles), agreed that the town needed an annual 4th of July Parade and after a round or two of adult beverages at Quimby's, formed the Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club to formally organize and supervise such a monumental annual event. The second generation of RSF Polo Clubbers still oversee the parade every year.
The following are some fun things that some didn't know about Tom. Tom had an insatiable appetite for reading and almost always about things that were his 'pet passions': history, politics and conservation. His library was impressive and his gift of curiosity was joyously contagious as we often hear how, "Tom got me into it" which is a testament to his ability to tactfully blend his skills of persuasion and enthusiasm with a boundless curiosity.
Tom's first job out of college was a rigorous one as an "oil roughneck" with Occidental Petroleum that involved the heavy lifting and fitting of drilling pipe into onshore and offshore drilling rigs. For two years Tom learned the true meaning work. In this time he became known for his fishing and lobstering prowess and more often than not he found himself supplying spiny lobster and red snapper to visiting executives, perhaps this was Tom's first foray into social networking with higher-ups.
Before taking over his dad's real estate brokerage business, Tom was a pilot and a stock broker for Eastman Dillon Union Securities for over 20 years, oftentimes found flying VIP clients to secret angling spots up and down the Baja peninsula.
Having been exposed to the construction of homes in the Covenant for captains-of-industry and the like for most of his life, Tom easily created relationships with some of California and Mexico's most influential architects. Before Tom took over his dad's residential real estate brokerage, he personally collaborated with Cliff May, the creator of the California Ranch Home, and then hired him to design his first house, a timeless treasure that incorporates all of Cliff May's elements of style and indoor/outdoor flow coupled with Tom's desire for an unforgettable view onto an oversize koi pond. Years later Cliff May would help in the design of Las Cachanillas, one of several residential developments that Tom created in and around Rancho Santa Fe.
In 1974 Tom and his former wife, Leith, would purchase perhaps the finest Lillian Rice home in all of Rancho Santa Fe, perched on a hill with stunning views of the San Elijo watershed and with three acres of orchards, gardens and a large pond where their two boys, Cutter and Chaco, grew up swimming and fishing. They would painstakingly restore this historic gem, secure its place on the National Registry of Historic Places and live in this home until 1996.
Tom's understanding of Old California style led to a natural beautification of so many outdoor landscapes in and around Rancho Santa Fe that he had a hand in. In addition to developing Calle Chaparro, Las Cachanillas, and Los Robles (completed in May 2013), Tom built yards and yards of rustic rock walls creatively interlaced with native succulents and flowers. His rustic handmade walls perfectly connect the Rancho that he grew up in with the Rancho that we still enjoy and romanticize.
Tom had a very sophisticated palette. Having been an avid hunter, lobsterman and fisherman all his life, Tom was accustomed to enjoying truly the finest and freshest food stuffs available. In the late 1970's at his home on San Elijo, he built a massive 1,000 square foot rock walled garden where he would end most days tending to his vegetables crop. Coupled with plenty of fruits of the sea and what seemed like an endless supply of fresh game, were Tom's beautiful fresh vegetables, though never of the variation and uniqueness of Chino's, Tom had a very green thumb.
Last but not least, Tom's authenticity was as deep as his integrity. If there is one thing that you hear about Tom more often than not, it was his genuine desire to speak the truth, and frankly, to friends and acquaintances no matter who they were or what side of the fence they were on. Though some may have regarded this as too much tough love at times, in the end most developed a lot of respect for a man who wasn't afraid to communicate facts and hard-earned observations and made the extra effort to soften any sharp edges to those that were sensitive with frequent interjections of humor.
Years ago Tom, along with a group of like-minded Covenant residents, developed a plan to acquire the McMorrow river valley property in Rancho Santa Fe in order to preserve this unique habitat for Covenant members to experience and enjoy for generations to come. This property is very unique in that if you go there you really feel like you are stepping back in time and perhaps to a time when young Tom Clotfelter was working his way up the canyon with a backpack over his shoulders and a fishing pole in one hand and a quail call in the other.
If you knew Tom and enjoyed his company, please join us for a unique celebration of his life at the Rancho Santa Fe Arroyo at 17261 El Vuelo on Saturday, February 22, 2014, at 4pm. Dress warmly as the event is outside. Jeans and sturdy shoes/boots might be best on the uneven terrain. There will be food, drinks, and plenty of toasts to our beloved local legend.
Donations in his name may be made to: San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.
Published in the Rancho Santa Fe Review on Feb. 13, 2014