Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Ruth Newhall
1991 Zonta Roast

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November 8, 1991 — In character, former Signal editor Ruth Newhall takes her turn poking fun at Tom Lee, CEO of The Newhall Land and Farming Co., during the 1991 Zonta Roast at the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills. It would be several more years (1998) before the Santa Clarita Valley had a big enough space to accommodate such an event — Newhall Land's "Hyatt Valencia Hotel and Santa Clarita Conference Center," as it was called on opening day. The city of Santa Clarita's financial contribution earned it a share of the naming rights.

Photo by John Demos/The Signal.

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Under Fire For Fun: Tom Lee.

Zonta Roast a sizzling, spicy success.

GRANADA HILLS — The Newhall Land and Farming Co. CEO Tom Lee turned a deep pink at the 7th Annual Zonta Celebrity Roast Friday night, as a six-person panel grilled him with their witty barbs.

After the crowd of about 300 ate a repast of rosemary chicken and baked Pacific red snapper, the dining room at The Odyssey restaurant in Granada Hills turned into a huge board room with Lee set as the centerpiece.

Mistress of ceremonies Connie Worden welcomed the attendees before Jami Kennedy, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Zontians, took the microphone. "We are really honored to have Tom as our victim, I mean our guest," she said.

Zonta, an international service organization focused on the female professional, raises about $20,000 a year for charities such as the Association to Aid Victims of Domestic Violence, SCV Food Pantry, Heads Up and the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. This year's seventh annual event continued its tradition of "roasting" a prominent figure in the community.

Sarah Drislane, posing as "Bambi" the air-headed secretary, set the scene as the roasters — portraying disgruntled board members who plan to take over Lee's company — took their scats. George Pederson, aka George P. Li, addressed several issues related to Newhall Land and Farming Co.

"The reason why the event was held outside Santa Clarita Valley," Pederson told the guests, "is because this is the only place where they have white fish under $20 a plate. The unarmored three-spined stickleback fish would have cost $90,000 per serving." he said, referring to the fine assessed to the company following the concrete lining of Bouquet Creek and the consequent disturbance of an endangered species.

He also poked fun at the company's residential developments with quips about garage doors that open when the doorbell rings and toilets flushing when the yard sprinklers operate.

"Y'all have heard the story about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree? Well, Tom's version is slightly different: the tree is an oak," Pederson said, alluding to the company's razing of oak trees during the Westridge development.

He also referred to the slow-growth group, C.A.R.R.I.N.G., Pederson's acronym for "L.O.V.I.N.G. — Lifting Our Voices In Unison For New Growth."

The second roaster, Jack Shine, alias "Sheik, Rattle and Roll," announced his presence in an Arab's head wrap. He stated he was sent to Friday night's "board meeting" as a prophet, "a word that is foreign to you, Tom," he said jokingly.

"A great prophet will come 'forth-Lee.' A man will come close to the land — five foot-six. And he will be humble," he said, stressing the word "humble." "We have our own word for humble — cheap," Shine said, provoking laughter from the audience.

Keeping with the prophet theme, Shine continued, "He will do for the land of Israel what you, Tom, did for your own company — driving the value of your land down. And it will come to pass that a Nordstrom's will be built in the Santa Clarita Valley," Shine said, referring to the community's ungranted request for a Nordstrom's at the Valencia Town Center mall development.

Ruth Newhall, posing as Henrietta Mae Newhall, took a historical tone. "It seems to me there are people busy dismantling our great grandfather's ranch," she said, alluding to the Santa Clarita Valley region once owned by Henry Mayo Newhall and now widely developed by Newhall Land and Farming Co.

"Instead of herds, we have hordes," she said, with mock venom raising in her voice. "My family loved the cattle. The cattle didn't make trouble."

Clyde Smyth, alias Pedro Del Valle de Francisco de Smyth — an identity he promoted with a huge sombrero — playfully attacked Lee by citing his membership in the "Society for Prevention of Wetlands" and "Concrete Channel Providers."

The "Franciscan father" also noted that Lee never actually served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve before joining Newhall Land and Farming Co. "He was in the PFC of the Army Corps of Engineers."

Smyth, the superintendent of schools, equated the mock board members' overthrow of Lee to Santa Clarita Valley's recent school board election, stating: "I didn't know what a hostile takeover is. For me, not being in the business world, a hostile takeover is three new board members."

The final roaster, "Big Joe Black," otherwise known as Joe Schillaci, plotted Lee's personality on his own "fun index," observing, "Here's a guy that doesn't even play golf."

The board members "overthrew" Lee and elected a new CEO, Bugs Bunny, as their faithful leader.

In rebuttal, Lee said, "I'm sure glad this is for a good cause" before renouncing his "staff" and thanking the guests.

Worden closed the evening with the statement: "Thank you, Tom. We could not have picked a better victim."

Photo assignment. Click image to enlarge | Download archival scan

SG9102: 9600 dpi jpeg from 8x10 print in Signal Photo Archive.


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Ruth Newhall at 1991 Roast


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