My Dearest Canadian Neighbors,
My home in northwest Pasadena was built in 1895 and more than a century later, I became its eighth resident.
By Susana Porras
The neighborhood was a little rough, but beaming with character. I wanted to know everything about the house and the neighborhood. Who built it and who had lived there before me? What were their stories?
By 2013 my curiosity led me into a labyrinth that I wouldn’t emerge from for two years. My previous neighbors, all now deceased, came from all over – Kentucky, Texas, Mexico. Mrs. Anna Belle Colby was one such person. Trained as a teacher and a nurse, her birthplace of New Brunswick, Canada offered few opportunities, and she eventually became part of Canada’s mass exodus in the early 1900’s. She married Lowell Willis Colby, a Massachusetts man a few years her junior, and eventually they settled in a small clapboard bungalow in Pasadena.
I researched the Colby’s from their arrival to their passing in 1938, and found two lives defined by incredible achievements and marred by senseless tragedy. Mr. Colby took on a career as a Pasadena Police Patrolman and Mrs. Colby took on the roles of mother, activist, and writer. Mrs. Colby, wise beyond her generation became a blogger before the term was invented. She began writing a column called Pasadena Letter for the Woodstock Press in New Brunswick, Canada under her initials A.B.C. She wrote uninhibited about everything, from Prohibition to Pasadena’s efforts to support the Great War, and about the beautiful weather. In her Pasadena Letter dated November 19, 1917, she wrote, “This golden sunshine must be ‘Indian summer.’ We have had no rain yet. The chrysanthemums are larger than ever, and a variety of beautiful roses may be seen with fuchsias, bougainvillea and many purple and yellow blooms make the autumn days cheerful.” Each article reflected her own life and provided a way to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
The first Pasadena Police Patrolman to die in the line of duty
Mr. Colby began working for the Pasadena Police Department in 1910. On the warm summer evening of August 1, 1911, Patrolman Lowell W. Colby and his partner Patrolman Clarence E. Peck attended a domestic violence call that resulted in a house fire. In their attempt to put out the fire, Colby’s revolver fell out of its holster, hit the ground, and a single bullet discharged, subsequently going through Patrolman Colby’s thigh and Patrolman Peck’s chest. Three days later, Patrolman Peck became the first Pasadena Police Patrolman to die in the line of duty.
Patrolman Colby held multiple high-ranking positions at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows – a fraternal order whose mission has been to help others in need. More remarkably, he became one of the original founders of the Pasadena Police Relief Association, established on May 27, 1913. Its mission was to maintain a fund that was to be used in case of distress, injury, sickness or even death of an officer.
The more I learned about the Colby’s, the more I wanted to meet their descendants. Who were they and what had they accomplished?
I was delighted to learn they had a son named Willis Carter, who had been born in Pasadena and had visited relatives in Canada at the age of four. At the time I began my research, Willis Carter would have been 103 years old. Was he still alive? Highly unlikely, but his children certainly could be.
I soon learned he hadn’t even made it to his 10th birthday. Willis Carter had stepped on a rusty nail, contracted tetanus, and passed away. The vaccine that could have saved his life wouldn’t be available for at least another decade. The Colby’s were devastated. On October 20, 1920, the Woodstock Press wrote, “The deepest sympathy is expressed for the parents in their sad bereavement caused by the death of their only child.”
The Colby’s, as they had before, turned their heartbreak into love for their community and hosted an Easter Egg hunt in memory of their son for the children of their neighborhood for the next 15 years. The couple passed away within one month of each other in 1938. All three are buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California.
Anna Belle Colby
A.B.C. was a prolific writer who wrote about the City of Roses for 24 years, creating the ultimate Pasadena fan base. Over 1,200 of her articles were beautifully preserved by the New Brunswick Public Library, some of which have been shared with the Pasadena Public Library where anyone can continue to read and study her work.
Although I never met them, the Colby’s have had a profound influence on my career, my approach to civic duty, and above all my writing. I’ve adopted Mrs. Colby’s letter writing format as my own, and I hope my letters will inspire others one day. And with that, my dearest Mr. and Mrs. Colby, thank you for the incredible impact you had on my life, the City of Pasadena, and New Brunswick, Canada.
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