Paula Benjamin Little, who underwrote the annual cost of the large hanging flower baskets seen on Tiburon Boulevard in downtown Tiburon, died at her longtime home in the Hill Haven neighborhood after a long illness on Aug. 9. She was 77.
The flower-basket project was started by local residents Hazel Carter-Hattem, Randi Brinkman and Carol Rayner, but when Mrs. Little learned in 2013 that Rayner’s five-year commitment as financial sponsor of the project was ending, she approached the town of Tiburon with an offer to be the new sponsor.
After learning that the cost would be $10,000 per year for the 30 baskets, not $5,000 as originally estimated, Little gulped but gamely agreed to move forward, offering to pay 75 percent of the cost if the town paid 25 percent, she told The Ark at the time.
That first year, her share amounted to $7,500. This year, her annual contribution had risen to more than $8,800. It would have been higher, but two of the hanging baskets in front of the Belvedere-Tiburon Library were not hung this year because of the construction on the expansion.
“I thought that the addition of the flower baskets in the town was absolutely marvelous,” Mrs. Little said in a 2014 interview. “Flowers are a magical way to bring people into town, a lovely thing for them to see.
“I’ve never not lived with flowers around me. I grew up with flowers,” she said. “Living with flowers has always made me happy.”
Mrs. Little made friends everywhere she went.
“I loved her for her quick wit and no-nonsense approach to things,” said Patricia Pickett, the administrative aide at Tiburon Town Hall, who coordinated with Mrs. Little on the baskets and other projects.
It wasn’t the first time Mrs. Little found ways to support the beautification of the Tiburon Peninsula.
In 1994, she joined the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society as a lifetime member and was a generous donor to the organization. She also was part of a group of Landmarks volunteers who needled-pointed wildflower designs onto the long pew cushions for Old St. Hilary Landmark. Each cushion face required 135,000 needlepoint stitches.
She had turned her garden into a canvas and, while her health still permitted it, she worked with her gardener to create a Japanese garden in her front yard and a flower-filled idyll in her sloping backyard.
For many years after her husband died, Mrs. Little also volunteered at the Marin dialysis center where he had been treated.
Born March 14, 1943, to Virginia and John Benjamin in Los Angeles, she grew up in Gardena and then in Cheviot Hills.
Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Wright, brought citrus trees to Los Angeles in the mid-1800s and established Wright’s Greenhouses, a huge greenhouse and flower wholesale business based in Gardena and Torrance. They came to specialize in orchids and San Lorenzo roses. Mr. Wright’s son-in-law, Mrs. Little’s father, joined the business and started the practice of marketing lilies around Easter.
Mrs. Little graduated from nearby Beverly Hills High School and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree at Mills College in Oakland.
In 1988, she married widower Ed Little, a longtime friend of her parents. She moved into his Tiburon house and had lived there since.
The lower floor in Little’s own hillside home was a greenhouse filled with cymbidium orchids, which she tended and then brought into the house when they bloomed again.
Mrs. Little was survived by sister Muriel Buono of Palm Desert; niece Brittany Barker of Mooresville, N.C.; nephew Brendan Buono of Monrovia; and five grandnieces and grandnephews. Her sister Janet Miller died in 2015.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.