Former Tiburon parks commissioner Don Pickett was known as ‘Mr. Dipsea’
Longtime Tiburon resident Don Pickett, who served on the town’s early parks board and also earned admiration locally as an accomplished runner and artist, died July 30 from cardiac complications related to atrial fibrillation. He was 95.
Mr. Pickett was selected to serve on the town’s newly formed Parks and Recreation Committee, now known as the Parks, Open Space and Trails Commission, in the early 1970s. Among the accomplishments of the board during his tenure was helping to establish McKegney Green and backing the creation of six tennis courts in town.
An avid runner, Mr. Pickett was known for his dedication to the Dipsea Race, finishing among the top 35 runners 18 times and winning the competition in 1968 at age 40. His success earned him the nickname “Mr. Dipsea” among locals.
He was also passionate about art and frequently displayed his sketches in art exhibits at Town Hall.
Among friends, Mr. Pickett was known for being kind, witty and genuinely interested in those around him.
“Don was a person who loved people and communicating with them,” longtime friend and Tiburon resident Bill Lukens said in an email. “He will be greatly missed by all.”
Mr. Pickett was born Jan. 11, 1928, in Boise, Idaho, the youngest of three children, to Howard Pickett, a gardener, and Margaret Pickett, an art and music teacher. He spent small parts of his childhood in Seattle and Eugene, Oregon, but the bulk of his childhood was spent in Salem, Oregon.
Both of Mr. Pickett’s older brothers served in the military during World War II, with one dying during the war. Mr. Pickett followed in their footsteps and enlisted in the Navy. He began his service in 1945, after the war’s end, and served two years stationed in San Diego.
Mr. Pickett then enrolled at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1952 with a degree in Far Eastern studies. That led him to a career as an exporter, selling American auto parts along the Pacific Rim in Asia and Oceania for almost 40 years, retiring in 1990. Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Singapore and Taiwan were some of the areas he serviced, said his wife, Patti Pickett, an administrative assistant at Tiburon Town Hall.
He married his first wife, Pat, in 1953 and moved to Tiburon in 1954. He and Pat had three children, Tom, Toby and Rebecca, before divorcing after 25 years of marriage.
Tom Pickett, who now lives in Kīlauea, Hawaii, said he remembers his father as playful and humorous. He frequently participated in water fights with his children, much to Pat’s dismay, with Tom calling his father “a pretty formidable opponent.” Homemade ice cream sundaes were also regular part of Tom’s childhood, as Mr. Pickett was a huge fan of banana splits.
Tom said he also remembers his parents as hardworking; his mother waited tables at various restaurants in town while studying for a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, and Mr. Pickett washed dishes at the Tiburon Lodge at that time to help the family stay out of debt and support Pat’s studies.
Mr. Pickett also kept the family active, with Tom noting one of his favorite memories is of his father chasing him up the steep Tiburon hills. When Tom was growing up, it was common for family vacations to consist of backpacking in nature, including Desolation Wilderness, Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps.
The majority of Mr. Pickett’s forays into fitness centered around running. While at the University of Oregon, Pickett ran under Bill Bowerman — the school’s legendary track and field coach and Nike co-founder — but left the team after his freshman year. It was one of his great regrets, Patti said.
That regret inspired a return to competitive running at age 37, when Mr. Pickett began traveling across the U.S. and to Germany for races. He went on to be a founding member of the Tiburon Triathlon in the 1970s and helped form the Tiburon Sport Club in 1979, according to The Ark’s archives.
Mr. Pickett earned the nickname “Mr. Dipsea” by being a formidable runner in the nation’s oldest trail race, which takes participants from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach over 7.4 miles of hills.
“Don Pickett loved the Dipsea, and the Dipsea loved Don Pickett,” the Dipsea Race Committee said in a statement.
He entered the race for the first time in 1965, finishing 71st. Just three years later he won the competition and went on to finish the race among the top 35 runners 18 times, nine of those times placing in the top 10. He also won four family trophies running with his son Toby.
Mr. Pickett’s character as a competitor was perhaps best displayed in the 1975 race, when he was stopped by fellow runner Joe Patterson of Australia at a fork in the trail.
When Patterson asked his competitor which way to go, Mr. Pickett told Patterson to follow him.
Patterson ended up winning the race, coming in 11 seconds ahead of Mr. Pickett — something Mr. Pickett said probably wouldn’t have happened if Patterson had gone the other direction at the fork in the road.
“He would never have known the difference and would’ve come in a minute behind me,” Mr. Pickett said in a 2005 Marin Magazine article ahead of the Dipsea’s centennial.
His passion for running also led Mr. Pickett to Patti. The couple met in 1980, after Patti had recently taken up jogging while living on Raccoon Lane. One day, she was approached by Mr. Pickett, who wanted more women to join his Thursday night run.
“Sure, why not?” Patti recalled replying.
After about a year, she said, their friendship blossomed into a romance.
“And boy, he said, ‘But you know, if you’re going to be with me, you’re going to have to be a runner,’” Patti recalled. “I got seriously involved in that with the whole group. And we fell in love, and I moved in three weeks later. Never looked back.”
The two married in 1985.
“It offered me a whole new beginning to my life,” Patti said.
Tiburon resident Nora Noguez, who serves on the Heritage and Arts Commission, said Mr. Pickett and Patti adored each other, recalling Mr. Picket walking to Town Hall to meet Patti for lunch.
“The thing that always impressed me so much about Don is that if you looked up ‘gentleman’ — that was him,” Noguez said.
Patti said she would like Mr. Pickett to be remembered “as a leader and a team player.”
“And that’s what made him so great,” she said.
She noted his love for the town was evident in the way he would step up to help out when needed, whether it was organizing the triathlon or serving on the parks commission. During his time on the board, he and his colleagues worked to ensure an unobstructed waterfront view on Shoreline Park, protect the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum and define open space: “No benches, no water fountains. Just ‘grass blowing in the wind,’” Mr. Pickett wrote while remembering his time on the commission.
“He really felt — because he was a big defender of open space — that this was what it should be: for everyone, without stuff,” Patti said. “And so he was super proud of that in the town.”
Mr. Pickett’s interests and hobbies were varied. He was a singer, participating in the Marin Men’s Chorus during the 1960s with what Lukens called a beautiful tenor.
Tom remembers his father going up to any wilderness-area ridge and serenading his surroundings with his best Julie Andrews homage, belting out “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
“That was pretty funny,” Tom said.
Patti noted the couple’s love of jazz and Mr. Pickett’s readiness to break out a love song from his repertoire. Over the last two years, she said, Mr. Pickett would often leave her voicemails with his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”
He also was an artist. He took an outdoor sketching class with College of Marin art teacher Eva Diamond, and from there began sketching scenes of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, along with sketches of the Tiburon Peninsula. While his drawings may not have been architecturally perfect, Patti said she often heard others say they captured the town’s character. His quick sketches –— which he never spent more than an hour on — have appeared at Tiburon Town Hall as part of exhibits hosted by the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.
Eye problems prevented him from keeping up with his sketching in his later years of life, but Mr. Pickett’s drawings still adorn the walls of the couple’s home.
Patti said her favorite memory of Mr. Pickett is him in his garden. That was where he was at his most complete, she said, noting he loved bright, colorful flowers.
Tom also recalled his father’s love of gardening, though it sometimes interfered with his desire to sleep in.
“One of his favorite sayings was to knock on our doors early on Saturday and Sunday morning and say, ‘Boys, put on your work clothes. We’re going to work in the garden,’” Tom said. “So ‘Put on your work clothes’ was a well-remembered refrain.”
Mr. Pickett never complained about aging, his family said, but approached it with his typical personality.
When it was time to get up from sitting on the couch, Tom said, “he positioned himself like Simone Biles getting ready for an event.” He’d put his hands on his knees and lift himself up from the strength of his own legs.
Then, Tom said, he’d “reach his arms in the air and say, ‘Nailed it.’”
“That was his kind of attitude,” he said.
Patti said she’s heard both from those she knows and those she doesn’t know in the wake of Mr. Pickett’s death, something she said confirms the lasting impact he had on others.
“Don belonged to everybody,” Patti said. “And that’s what I’m finding out. And so, I want to embrace that life of his, that beauty.”
In addition to Patti and sons Tom and Toby, who lives in Santa Cruz, Mr. Pickett is survived by four grandchildren, Mallory, Erin, Gillian and Rylan, and three great-grandchildren, Ingrid, Finn and Camila.
Mr. Pickett was preceded in death by his parents, his first wife Pat, two brothers and his daughter.
The family is currently working on plans for a public celebration of life, likely in the spring.
Reach Tiburon reporter Francisco Martinez at 415-944-4634.