The path of life, like the path of history, is often determined by individual resolve.
Nowhere is that resolve more apparent than in Maggie Healy. after 30 years working for the city of Redondo Beach, the former assistant city manager entered law school at age 56.
“It’s when I’m studying for an exam that I start wondering, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” said Healy, who maintains a "B" average and is close to completing her first year at Pacific Coast University School of Law in Long Beach.
Judging by the sparkle in her bottle-green eyes, the gutsy redhead, who envisions passing the bar by age 60, relishes the idea of starting a whole new career—more than likely in the field of municipal law.
It was while working alongside five city managers, including current Bill Workman, that Healy’s appreciation of the law blossomed.
Working “peripherally in communications law, getting involved as an administrator, I just found it interesting and compelling,” she said.
Whether it was implementing a complex telecommunications franchise for the city or shepherding “The Redondo Beach Path of History” through its various phases, Healy is just fine getting into the legal weeds—things like determining what benefits or detracts from the public right of way.
Her efforts to tend to the city's welfare for 30 years, as well as her ambition to reinvent herself at a time when most would as soon disappear into retirement, made Healy a natural for Patch’s Greatest Person series.
The Path of History, a project undertaken by the Leadership Redondo Class of 2002, identifies historical sites around the city by means of signs. The project was joy for Healy, born and raised in Redondo and a member of the class.
During an interview at the , where photos used in the project are on display, Healy remarked on "how great it was to be able to work in the city you were born in.”
She recalled growing up in the house her father and uncle built in 1946 on Stanford Avenue in North Redondo, attending nearby , and “knowing Hermosa really well because that was the way to the beach.”
Healy, who also served as the of for a time, has always loved Redondo, she said including “the older homes and buildings” she would revisit when her Leadership Redondo Class decided on their project.
Leadership Redondo, launched in 2000 by the , is designed to prepare a select group of individuals who live and/or work in the city to become future community leaders. It’s an 18-month commitment (often longer) devoted to studying resources and issues and developing a project that will benefit the city.
“The class was interested in doing a historical project,” Healy said. “And it boiled down to either doing a video, where people told stories of things that happened, or doing the Path of History project.” (As it happens, they ended up with both. The video, produced by Sidevision Video Productions, is available for viewing at the Historical Museum during business hours.)
The class mission statement, imprinted on a bookmark when the project was announced at the end of 2002, read in part: “The Leadership Redondo Class of 2002 selected ‘The Path of History’ project as a way to connect the present to the past—to bring the city’s history to residents and visitors as they walk through the park or play by the sea. As each avenue of history is opened, our view of the city is expanded and enriched."
Modeled after similar walks in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, the class listed 24 sites where photos and descriptive text would be installed. They included the the area, where the Lightning Racer roller coaster and huge saltwater Plunge once existed, and , site of the wondrous, turn-of-the-century .
The Hotel Redondo sign, the first to emerge in 2004, bears three photographs of the luxury resort that drew people from as far away as New York. Along with an 18-hole golf course, “the hotel was equally proud of its billiard room, steam heat, electricity and Otis elevators,” the plaque reads. “Guests arrived at the Redondo Railway station in back of the hotel, while those debarking from the coastal steamers paraded up the long sloping walk in front.”
Aside from the Lightening Racer and Hotel Redondo signs, the three other existing markers are devoted to the Marina/Harbor construction, the Redondo piers, and the unique city street design, the work of William H. Hall.
Two more are partially funded, one about the that once inhabited the Vincent Park area, and another tribute to the old fire station and city hall on Catalina Avenue.
The marker for the street design by Hall had special meaning for Healy.
“Lou Garcia was the city manager when we first pitched this idea (to the city council),” she said. “He was very supportive of it” and had done extensive research about William Hammond Hall, the design engineer.
“The neat thing about (Hall) is that he also designed San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park,” Healy said. “Since Lou had done all the research, he wrote the (story) for sign No. 5.”
"Unlike the grid patterns of most 19th-century towns," Garcia wrote, "Redondo Beach was created with a unique curvilinear street system. The streets, bearing the names of Hispanic women and gemstones, were tiered from a single focal point at the Pacific Ocean moving inland in an easterly direction from the ocean."
Unfortunately, the sign wasn’t built before Garcia passed away in 2007. “But his daughter came (for the dedication in 2009)," Healy said, "and it was sort of like a tribute to him. That was a moving day, because he was so supportive of the project.”
The plaque resides in front of the .
All the distinctive blue signs are the work of Hunt Design, the Pasadena firm that designed the city's logo. “So they knew what colors (would work)," Healy said, how to retain the "Redondo identity.”
The first plaque was used to raise money for the project, the signs costing about $8,000 each to build and maintain.
Healy extends enormous credit to classmate Pat Haines, who “worked hard to raise funds,” she said. Healy also credited Historical Commissioner (on behalf of the Historical Society), who did most of the research and selected photos from the Historical Museum.
“I just tried to coordinate (the project), since that was my role with the city anyway,” Healy said. “Once we knew what we were going to do, it went really smoothly; it had a life of its own.”
Contributors ranged from council members to corporations like Chevron and to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to small businesses and private individuals. (To learn how to sponsor a sign, visit The Path of History website.)
Healy, who has “never wanted to live anywhere” but Redondo, shares a home in South Redondo with her husband of 28 years, Pat Healy, a retired musician and artist. “Pat keeps our life full of music, (and there are) always these great discussions going on between he and his friends.”
She admits that the study of the law doesn't leave time for much else. "It's a lot of information, massive amount of information, all these rules and exceptions, but I really love it,” she said.
That Healy possesses the temperament and determination to succeed at her new career was born out by former boss Workman.
Calling from a Fathers Day trip to Disneyland on Saturday, Workman said Healy’s legal ambitions were “consistent with some of her experiences with the city (and working) a lot with our outside legal counsels."
“She very much enjoyed that analytic point of view,” the city manager said, adding with a chuckle, “and little did I know she was looking at an opportunity to expand that interest and actually go to law school.”
Shocked when he learned Healy was leaving last year (“I basically nearly fell out of my chair,” he said), Workman expressed his deep admiration for her intellect and courage.
“She did a great job for the city of Redondo Beach; I’m very proud that she took it upon herself not to sit in her rocking chair on the porch,” he said.
A graduate of Cal State Dominguez, Healy holds a degree in English literature and a minor in communications law, which magnetized her from the start: “I thought, ‘Wow, who would think I’d be interested in law?’”
What drew her, she said, was “the fact that all our laws are based on things that happened to real people and their stories ... Also, just the concept of fairness—so complex. Fairness is not easy to achieve, and that’s what the law strives to do. I just think that’s a noble pursuit.”