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Margot Patterson Doss -- Chronicle columnist on walks for 30 years

obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle - 1/17/03
by Carl Nolte
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Margot Patterson Doss, shown in 1974, walked 6,000 miles a year in her heyday. Chronicle photo by Jerry Telfer





Margot Patterson Doss, whose columns about the pleasures of walking in San Francisco and the Bay Area graced the pages of The Chronicle for 30 years, died Wednesday at Marin General Hospital in Ross after suffering a stroke. Mrs. Doss, who lived in Bolinas, was 82.

Mrs. Doss was a reporter and columnist for a number of papers, but found her newspaper mission in life with her columns on walking and discovering neighborhoods, parks, famous and little known places. Her columns, called "San Francisco At Your Feet" and "The Bay Area at Your Feet" were hugely popular with readers.

She also wrote a dozen books about walking in the Bay Area, and for seven years led walks on "Evening Magazine," a Bay Area television show.

In her heyday, Mrs. Doss walked 6,000 miles a year, and at one time owned 42 pairs of shoes, nearly all of them sturdy.

Margot Patterson Doss was also a gentle crusader and had a big hand in the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "She was a very powerful influence," said Amy Meyer, one of the founders of the park, which was developed from old military bases and open land to become one of America's premier national parks.

"She helped open public awareness to the outdoors and to the opportunities there," Meyer said.

Mrs. Doss was fond of recalling that her first Chronicle column, published in June 1961, invited the public to see what was behind the closed gates of the old Fort Funston military reservation near the San Francisco Zoo. The Army had turned it over to the city, and the city was about to sell it to developers.

She made special arrangements to have the fort opened to the public for a single day. "I thought if the public had the right to see the place for themselves, they'd make the right decision," she said.

The city and then-Mayor George Christopher were astounded when 20,000 people took up Mrs. Doss' invitation, and the fort was saved to become part of what later became the GGNRA.

She also crusaded to save Fort Mason and the Marin Headlands, both in danger of development. "She was a dynamo," Meyer said.

Her advice to walkers in her last column, which ran in June 1991, was the same as her first: "Start this walk early in the morning. Pack a picnic, wear your most comfortable hiking boots, bring a sun hat and your favorite alpenstock."

Thousands of people took her advice every Sunday, so much so that park officials demanded advance notice of her walks so they could put on additional personnel to handle the crowds.

"She loved every corner of the Bay Area as if it were a corner of her living room," said David Perlman, a Chronicle colleague.

Margot Patterson was born in Minneapolis on Aug. 22, 1920, and worked as a reporter on newspapers in Bloomington, Ill., Peoria, Ill., and Milwaukee.

She was a freelance writer in New York when she married John Doss in 1947. The couple came to San Francisco in 1955, when Dr. Doss was a resident at the Stanford Hospital.

They raised a family in Cow Hollow and on Russian Hill, and they also ran kind of a literary salon, specializing in Beat Generation writers. "She was like a den mother to some of them," John Doss said Thursday.

By chance she met Abe Mellinkoff, then The Chronicle's city editor, at a luncheon and told him how she took her growing family of boys on walks around the city and answered their questions about what they had seen by doing research in a library. Mellinkoff asked her to write some sample columns. The column went on for 30 years and three weeks.

She is survived by her husband, John, of Bolinas; four sons, Richard Patterson Doss of San Francisco, Alexander MacKenzie Doss of Nicasio, John Watson Doss of Marshall, and Gordon Williams Doss of San Rafael; and two grandchildren.

Instead of a funeral, the family is planning a series of Buddhist ceremonies that will end on the 49th day after her death, on Ash Wednesday, March 5, when her cremated ashes will be cast on the outgoing tide at the entrance to the Bolinas Lagoon.

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