Judith Munk
With a sculptor ' s eye and an environmentalist ' s concerns, Judy Munk left a mark as one of San Diego ' s most persuasive and charming architectural watchdogs.

Even those who challenged her views grew to respect her buoyant tenacity.

In the most cheerful, sunshine-filled voice, she would tell you to get off your rear end and do the right thing for the city, said Kay Kaiser, a longtime friend and architectural writer. Judy could get people to do anything, and she did.

Mrs. Munk, the wife of renowned oceanographer Walter Munk, exerted her greatest influence in the architecture and planning of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she championed the renovation and reuse of old buildings in a way that complemented the landscape.

Her design concepts were incorporated in her showcase La Jolla home and in the redwood-and-glass Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, built in 1962 overlooking 121-foot cliffs and the ocean.

Mrs. Munk died of pneumonia Saturday at Scripps Memorial Hospital after falling from her wheelchair in her La Jolla home, said daughter Edie Munk. She was 81.

Immobilized by polio at 21, Mrs. Munk used a wheelchair for many years.

Her doctor said she would never live a rich life and she proved him totally wrong, Edith Munk said. She still traveled all over the world and let nothing stop her.

In recent months, Mrs. Munk voiced her urban planning concerns as a member of the Broadway Complex Coalition, a group promoting open space and park-like promenades and opposing high-rise development along the waterfront.

The first meeting of our coalition in February was at Walter and Judy ' s home, said Diane Coombs, chairwoman of the Broadway group. She and Walter were very generous in making the home available for causes they believed in. The last time I was there, she was sculpting a piece in her patio area.

Mrs. Munk, who had studied architecture at Bennington College in Vermont under the esteemed Richard Neutra, worked to save some of the early cottages on the Scripps campus and convert one them into a conference center. She spearheaded efforts to restore a 1913 arts and crafts cottage known as the Director ' s House and helped bring Donal Hord ' s sculpture, Spring Stirring, to the original Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, now named the Judith and Walter Munk Laboratory.

Mrs. Munk and her husband contributed to the development of Scripps Crossing, an innovative cable footbridge designed by Frieder Seible and built in the early 1990s across La Jolla Shores Drive. It united two sections of the Scripps campus.

Judy had a keen sense of urban design, said Max Schmidt, formerly San Diego ' s principal planner. She was creative and insightful regarding needs and solutions.

Judith Horton Munk was born April 10, 1925, in San Gabriel. Her mother ' s parents had settled in San Diego in the 1870s.

At 7, she took up sculpting. Her mentor was Hord, one of San Diego ' s most renowned sculptors.

After earning a degree in arts and architecture at Bennington College, she enrolled at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Stricken with polio, she changed plans and settled in the San Diego home of her maternal grandmother.

In 1951, she began working at Scripps Aquarium as an illustrator/materials assistant. It was there that she met Walter Munk, who had been affiliated with Scripps since 1939. They were married in 1953.

They were a team, Kaiser said. If you got Walter, you got Judy. Together, they ran the most elegant household in San Diego.

One of the features of their home, built in 1954 overlooking the Pacific, is an amphitheater set on a terrace. The amphitheater has been a venue for theatrical and dance performances.

An evening in her living room was renowned as the quintessential Scripps experience for students, scientists and legions of friends from around the world, said Charles Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In the early days of the University of California San Diego, Roger Revelle recruited world-class scientists to the faculty by inviting them to the Munk residence.

' Here is a typical faculty house, ' Walter Munk remembered Revelle telling faculty recruits.

Walter Munk, who often relied on his wife as a sounding board for his research projects, described her as one of the few bridges between the old San Diego, Scripps Institution and the university.

The couple were instrumental in securing housing for international visitors to UCSD, and Mrs. Munk was an early supporter of the UCSD International Center.

She was an original member of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, an organization formed in the 1960s to address urban sprawl and planning issues. She also was active in the Junior League, the La Jolla Town Council, the University Towne Center Task Force and the Committee on University Community Planning.

Most of all, my mother had great style, daughter Kendall Munk said.

Whether arriving through the kitchen with my father pushing her from behind, or being hoisted up, over and around obstacles in her wheelchair by four strapping men, she arrived always beaming and gracious and ready for a good, strong drink, and ' please, no ice. '

Survivors include her husband, Walter; daughters, Edie Munk of La Jolla and Kendall Munk of State College, Pa.; brothers, Edward Horton of Houston and Winter Horton of Pasadena; sister, Amanda Stork of Westwood; and three grandsons.

A celebration of life is scheduled for June 25 at the Judith and Walter Munk Laboratory of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. For information, call (858) 534-3948.

Donations are suggested in Mrs. Munk ' s memory to support the Scripps Seaside Forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Checks should be made payable to to UC Regents Scripps Forum Project, and sent to Edwina Riblet, SIO/UCSD, 9500 Gilman Drive-MC 0210, La Jolla, CA 92093-0210.

Image: /images/utbullets/utbullet.gif Jack Williams: (619) 542-4587; [email protected]
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Published by San Diego Union-Tribune on May 25, 2006.
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