ENCINITAS — A man who loved his community and was passionately involved in making Encinitas the city it is today passed away suddenly last week, leaving family, friends, colleagues, and the region stunned.
Morgan Mallory, 68, who owned the Corner Frame Shop/Leucadia Art Gallery on North Coast Highway 101 for almost 40 years, died Monday afternoon, Sept. 23, of an apparent heart attack on his way to his shop.
“It’s been really rough, I know for me it was like having my legs cut off,” his younger brother Tom Mallory said in a phone interview Saturday. “It’s pretty devastating for us.”
Morgan has a long list of accomplishments in the city dating back decades. He helped create the LeucadiArt Walk in the 1980s and helped to revive it in later years.
He was the founding president of Leucadia 101 Main Street Association and a board member and former vice president of Cardiff 101 Main Street Association. He was a co-author of the city’s North Coast Highway 101 Specific Plan, co-author of the Cardiff 101 Specific Plan, founder of the Leucadia 101 Farmers Market and a longtime advocate of the N. Highway 101 Leucadia Streetscape Improvements Project.
“There are often people who speak up about community issues, Morgan actually rolled up his sleeves and did so much of the actual work,” said Teresa Barth, who also serves on the Cardiff 101 Main Street Association and knew Mallory for about 15 years. “He wasn’t just an advocate; he was an action person as well.”
Tom Mallory admitted his older brother’s accomplishments are so many it took him by surprise to learn just how much he had been a part of.
“I knew he’d done a lot, I had no idea how much,” Tom said. “Morgan really loved his community and he liked hanging out there, and he really liked, a lot more than I realized, working to make it a better place.”
Tom said another thing he hadn’t realized about Morgan was what a wonderful photographer he was becoming.
“The appreciation he had for Leucadia, for Cardiff, especially for the San Elijo lagoon, really came out and you see it in his photography,” Tom said.
Morgan was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, lived in Evanston, Illinois, and attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Before he took over the frame shop and art gallery, Morgan tended bar at such places as La Jolla’s old Bratskeller.
After decades as a bachelor, Mallory met the love of his life Brenda Dizon, whom he was married to for 16 years and together with for 20.
“Morgan getting married was a novel concept, he was someone who had avoided the marriage altar for some time,” Tom Mallory said, likening him to actor Warren Beatty, who was a notorious playboy until being tamed by the actress Annette Bening, whom he married when he was in his mid-50s. “He and Brenda were just a perfect couple and she was a good calming influence on him.”
Family and friends describe Mallory as a prankster, always at the ready with a practical joke.
“Brenda told me that he would sell his photographs at the art gallery under an assumed name, some elaborate three-part Italian or Spanish name, just as a practical joke,” Tom said. “If they were serious about buying it, he would tell them, ‘This is my photograph.’”
Tom said other pranks include Morgan pretending to put Tom’s phone in the microwave and turning it on and signing the Queen of England’s name in a book Tom had of the Royal Family.
Susan Hays, a board member of Cardiff 101 Main Street who described Morgan as a dear friend, said he played Santa’s Elf for years at the Cardiff Kringle Mingle event, complete with an elf suit and a silly hat, and he’d usher kids in to have their picture taken with Santa.
“I can remember looking over and seeing him going through all sorts of antics to get a child to smile,’” Hays recalled. “At that sight I can remember laughing and thinking, ‘Morgan is the best.’”
The City Council adjourned last week’s meeting in Mallory’s honor and shared a seven-minute slideshow tribute to him, that featured photographs he’d taken around the city, including pictures of trains, beaches, the lagoon, trestle bridge and various insects and wildlife.
During the tribute, council members spoke about Mallory’s many accomplishments and member Kellie Shay Hinze read a statement from his wife, Dizon. Tom said she and Morgan had planned to retire soon to Maui, to live near their daughter Alexis and 19-month-old grandson Maddox.
“I’m the luckiest girl to have been so deeply and fully loved by this man for the past 20 years,” Dizon’s statement read in part. “He lifted my spirit every day with his antics and wit and he impressed me each time I witnessed his natural ability to give to those around him … I am heartbroken and have no idea how to move forward without him at my side.”
A celebration of life is being planned.
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.