The Coastal Post - April, 1999


By Judy Borello

Editor's Note: Judy Borello was asked to submit a autobiography by the Golden Gate Bridge District to go along with the poem which was written to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Here it is in the place of her regular column.

I almost arrived in a taxi, but my mother Anne Rachel Thorsen made it to Mt. Zion hospital, where she gave birth to me on May 15, 1943.

My father, Albert Nolan, was off watching Galloping Gaels of St. Mary's in Moraga being defeated and that told him that he was the father of a girl. Two years before, my father hung boxing gloves over the crib and was awaiting the birth of Patrick. Much to his chagrin, my sister Patricia was born. He later conceded that we drove him crazier than two boys could have.

My mother named me Judith Mae Nolan, and when I was being called on the carpet, it was always Judy Mae, come here!

My background is steeped in San Francisco family history. I was one of the last tots to be baptized in the old Mission Dolores.

My grandfather John P. Nolan, Sr., was referred to as "Car House Johnny" by the illustrious Mayor "Sunny Jim Rolph."

My grandparents, John and Anna Nolan, were married the day before the 1906 earthquake. Upon waking at the St. Francis in the morning, they were toasting each other with champagne when they noticed the chandelier swinging back and froth. My grandmother said to her new husband, "Well, you were good last night, John, but not that good!"

For many years on the anniversary of the '06 quake, Grandpa would go on TV recounting his experiences, always stating that the earthquake wasn't the #1 factor that destroyed the city. The gas mains were turned on in the morning to serve up breakfast and it was the fire that did most of the damage.

Grand-dad ran the cable cars for 50 years, and he would be the master of ceremonies of the "cable car bell-ringing contest" every year. I spent many a summer's day watching my grandpa schedule and time all the routes of the cable cars, and then I would hitch rides on them by holding onto the back.

Grandma's brother, Manual Freitas, known to us kids as Uncle Manny, was a notorious bookie in the city and rode around in the mayor's car.

My grandparents' youngest son, John P. Nolan, Jr., pitched for the San Francisco Seals, and later joined the Army and pitched a no-hitter against the National league All Stars in an exhibition

game. Although his pitching was spectacular, his proudest moment was when he got a hit, because his batting ability was so poor. He was killed near the coast of North Africa in World War II.

My mother's father, John Thorsen, Sr., was a Norwegian immigrant who built some of the finest now-antiquated buildings in downtown San Francisco. He sent $20,000 back home to Norway to procure a wife, my grandmother Lena Jamison, the first-born daughter of a Gypsy king. A green-eyed, black-haired beauty of 15 years arrived by boat. She spiced up the family; she played piano and sang with the San Francisco Opera.

I grew up in the Castro and attended Most Holy Redeemer grammar school and spent many a day hanging out at Eureka Valley gym and playground, never missing a dance. When I was a freshman as St. Paul's High School, it was discovered that I suffered from an eye condition that caused macular degeneration and rendered me legally blind.

Upon leaving high school, I married my childhood sweetheart, Ken Spargo (Pasqie) and had a son, Thor, in 1961. His uncle Ralph "Sparky" Spargo had worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and witnessed a fellow falling off; he was caught in the net unharmed.

Due to an abundance of youthful exuberance, the marriage soon ended, and we remained good friends until his untimely death a few years ago.

In 1971, after having married Michael Hawley, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Michele, known as "Chums" to her family and friends. That same year we bought the Old Western Saloon in Pt. Reyes Station, which still remains in my family today. A few years later that marriage soured, but Mike and I have remained friends to this day.

Somewhere between Ken and Mike, I met Sally Stanford, the famous Madame, when I worked at Franklin hospital in the city and later became a hostess at her restaurant, The Valhalla, in Sausalito. We remained good friends until her demise years go and my memorable relationship with her is a story in itself.

I had moved to Marin County in 1965 and by the time I wrote the Golden Gate poem I had spent my first 22 years in San Francisco and 22 years in Marin County and the bridge itself spanned my life.

Sometime later, I married Pt. Reyes rancher Robert A. Borello, the love of my life. His father, Al Borello, owned the biggest cleaning plant in San Francisco, and he cleaned all the uniforms of the police and firemen gratis. There was

a method to his madness, because if he got drunk anywhere in the City, all he had to do was make a phone call to be chauffeured home by San Francisco's finest.

When opening day of the Golden Gate Bridge happened, Al Borello had purchased a stagecoach with "Borello Cleaning and Dyeing" painted on its side. Son Robert was 7 years old and sat inside the stagecoach with his mother, Helen. This event was one of my husband's fondest memories as a little tyke growing up in the City.

Having written the poem, "The Glorious Golden Gate," it was Bob's idea to have it displayed on Vista Point, with an unanimous vote from the Marin Baord of Supervisors and the cooperation of the late gentlemen, Bill Filante. Nine years later it was put there in bronze. Bob met with an untimely death in October of '92, leaving me with a rich treasury of memories.

Despite suffering from a recent stroke, I am doing wonderfully well. The reason I'm mentioning my afflictions is to let people know that no matter what life deals you, accept it with positive grace, challenge it, and for God's sake "follow your dream."

P.S. I could not have accomplished this feat without the support of family and friends. Especially Gary Giacomini, Supervisor of Marin County; Bill Filante, Assemblyman; Carney Campion, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Bridge District; Keith Robinson, Architect for CalTrans; George Sumner, kindred spirit and renowned artist; and Bob Borello, my husband and loving mentor.

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