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Pegeen Kieffer Mathison

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She liked train travel, a nightly glass of cold gin (three olives, hold the vermouth), and a good detective novel. Even as she weakened in the aftermath of a stroke, she remained an unrepentant liberal who delighted in "The Daily Show," and the latest news from D.C. She retained her wry Irish intellect until the final day of her life.

Pegeen Mathison died on Saturday, March 18, 2006. It was a sunny, breezy morning, and her children and grandchildren were by her bedside to send her off in a chorus of tears and laughter. She had celebrated her 84th birthday with family just a week before.

Pegeen grew up in Boyle Heights, near downtown Los Angeles. In the late 1930s, her lithe beauty and easy laugh caught the eye of an actor, who whisked her away from work to a nearby soda fountain. For the next 65 years, she got to boast about her soda with Clark Gable.

She was a writer, publicist, and food entrepreneur who turned her gift for cooking into several ventures. In the 1950s, she was the food editor of Fortnight Magazine. In the 1960s, she became a lay therapist in the counseling office of Loyola Marymount University. In the 1970s, she founded Custom Cookery, one of the first enterprises to capitalize on the growing market for convenient gourmet foods. Recently, she was a volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society.

Pegeen graduated from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles in 1944 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature. After World War II, she married Richard Mathison, an Idaho-born journalist who later became the Los Angeles bureau chief for Newsweek. Pegeen was a consummate hostess at the couple's home in the Hollywood Hills. Local literati were treated to chicken molé and Ossobuco long before the dishes became well-known in this country. Richard and Pegeen had a good marriage for many years, but were divorced in 1969.

The couple delighted in their brood. Eldest daughter Melinda Johnson is a retired Superior Court judge for Ventura County. Her husband, Jay, is a local trial attorney. Their sons are Bret, 29, and Tyler, 25. Daughter Melissa Mathison is a screenwriter whose films include "E.T." and "The Black Stallion." Her children are Malcolm, 18, and Georgia, 15. Stephanie Mathison, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., with her partner, Viola Trujillo, is an Emmy Award-winning television writer and novelist. Mark Mathison is an accomplished guitarist and songwriter in Los Angeles. Dirk Mathison, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Susan Zack Mathison, is a journalist. They have two children; Nora is 10 and Emmett is 8.

Pegeen, who moved to Ventura in 1981, spent much of the last few decades traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe. Until just last year, it was common for her to hop in her car and drive alone to Wyoming, Santa Fe, or even New York. She often complained about the quality of roadside food, but in the next sentence would rhapsodize about the beauty of her country. Just two months before her stroke, she was trekking up and down the steep streets of Capri in Italy.

Her beauty, elegance, and fierce independence earned her many friends. She is greatly missed and greatly loved.

There will be a recitation of the rosary for Pegeen at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Ted Mayr Funeral Home, 3150 Loma Vista Road. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Friday, March 24, at the San Buenaventura Mission, 211 E. Main St., Ventura.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the City of Hope, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010.

Published in Ventura County Star from Mar. 22 to Mar. 25, 2006
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