Sonoma Valley conservationist Ted Eliot dies at 91

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Ted Eliot of Sonoma died on Aug. 8 from complications of a heart condition. He was 91.

Eliot and his late wife Pat moved to Sonoma in 1988. They spent their golden years in the Sonoma Valley passionately working to protect the natural world, expand local trails and protect open space. Pat Eliot died in 2016 at age 87.

Friend and nonprofit colleague Joshua Rymer described Eliot as a “gentleman giant of a man.”

“But he could be fierce and relentless when it came to his passions: his wife and family, the preservation of open space, birding and our community,” said Rymer. “He leaned in and we are better for it.”

Many local friends only knew snippets of Eliot’s illustrious life before Sonoma.

Theodore Lyman Eliot Jr. was born Jan. 24, 1928. He was raised in Boston, part of the prominent Boston Eliot family, which included several college presidents and one Nobel Prize winner.

He graduated from Harvard University in 1948 and married Pat Peters in 1951, in what is now Sri Lanka, where Eliot was working as a member of the Foreign Service. He received a master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Public Administration in 1956.

Eliot was a Foreign Service Officer for 30 years, serving in Sri Lanka, Germany, the Soviet Union, Iran and, from 1973 to 1978, he served as the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan. In Washington, his tours included Country Director for Iran and Executive Secretary of the Department of State. From 1978 to 1985 he was dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, following that he directed the Center for Asian Pacific Affairs at the Asia Foundation. His list of lifetime honors was as long as his lanky arms: The State Department awarded him its Replogle Management award and Director General’s Cup, Tufts University awarded him its Presidential Medal, the list goes on.

Later in his career, Eliot was Secretary General for the United States of the Bilderberg Meetings, the annual conference established to foster dialogue between Europe and North America, from 1981 to 1993.

During their three decades in Sonoma, the Eliots left their mark on the Valley and its natural character. Pat, a lifelong environmentalist, served as a board member of Sonoma LandPaths and Ted was both an avid conservationist and a passionate bird watcher. He served on the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Community Foundation Sonoma County and its off-shoot, the Sonoma Valley Fund. He also co-chaired the Measure F campaign in 2006, which reauthorized until 2031 the sales tax that supports the Sonoma County Open Space District.

“I think you’ll find that any time an issue crops up in the Valley that has environmental implications, you’ll find me involved somehow,” Eliot told the Index-Tribune in 2017. “I think the most important issue facing the Valley today is the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center. It’s an amazing piece of property, which we hope will be preserved as open space in some way.”

Eliot always credited Pat with the couple’s decision to end up in Sonoma.

“When she was a teenager during World War II, she worked at the Jack London dude ranch for three summers,” he said in an 2017 interview, describing a time when, because of the war, the author’s widow Charmian London had to offset dwindling revenues from her late husband’s books by opening the sprawling ranch to tourists and guests willing to pay to spend a week walking in the footsteps of the famous writer.

“My work took us around the world for the next 30 years,” he said in 2017, “living in five different countries, plus Boston, plus Washington, D.C. But I always knew that we would someday live in Sonoma, because that’s what Pat dreamed of, and that somewhere up on Sonoma Mountain, we’d have our own home when we retired.”

In 2017, the Eliots were named Sonoma’s Alcalde and Alcaldesa for 2017, the year after Pat Eliot died at the age of 87.

Ted is survived by his four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Details of a service were not yet available at press time.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

Editor Note: A longer version of this story with memories from friends and colleagues will appear in the Tuesday edition of the Index-Tribune.]

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