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Former Santa Monica Mayor Remembers His Mother

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 16, 2013 -- “Mom was always looking out. She wanted to know what kind of grades I was getting, what kind of friends I was making.”

Nat Trives, Santa Monica's first black mayor, was reminscing about his days as a student at Lincoln Junior High and the active roll his mother, Lillie Bell Blakley, had in making sure he stayed on the right path.

Blakley, who died Wednesday at the age of 96, was a woman of strong values and strong faith, Trives recalled. She was also his inspiration to live a life of service.

“Mom raised us to be proud of who we are,” Trives said. And to “be proud of how we got to where we are.”

Blakley, who moved to Santa Monica with her family in 1949, never let her six children forget that it was important to give back to the community.

While Trives was at Santa Monica High School, his mother got deeply involved in the Parent-Teacher Association.

“The motivation was, be aware of what was going on as it affected your kids. To me, that was very important,” Trives said.

Later in life, she would volunteer at homes for the elderly.

Trives' took his mother's lesson about giving back to the community to heart. He has served on and chaired numerous boards, including the Santa Monica Family YMCA board and the Board of Trustees of New Roads School.

He is also a former president of the Santa Monica Gems, a local scholarship organization which provides thousands of dollars to black students attending Santa Monica area schools and Santa Monica College.

Even though Blakley was a devout Christian -- she would take the family every Sunday to the Santa Monica Church of Christ at 15th Street and Michigan Avenue -- Trives said “she raised me with the idea that I could be comfortable” seeking his own spiritual path.

“She never demanded that I join that church,” he said. And she never had a problem when he would go with his friends to the synagogue or to other churches.

Trives said that his mother's ability to persevere was an inspiration for him. She was born in 1917 in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Living in the South was not an easy thing for people of color,” said Trives, who was elected mayor in 1975. Her marriage to Trives' father ended in divorce at a time when it was not socially acceptable.

A single mother, she moved to Indiana where she eventually met “a disciplined man, a hard-working man” by the name of James Blakley, Trives said.

The two married and “James... raised me as if I was his own,” Trives said.

The family moved to Santa Monica when James Blakley, who died in 2000, followed his employer, developer Sidney F. Brody to Los Angeles.

Trives' mother started working in the house of musician Nelson Riddle, who worked with some of the biggest names in music in the 1940s and 1950s, including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

“We had a good family,” Trives said.

When Trives married his wife Ida in 1955, “my wife's mother and my mother became the closest of friends.

“It was almost unnatural,” Trives joked.

But Blakley was known for her ability to befriend everybody.

“She respected people,” Trives said. “That's (the influence of) the Good Book, too.”

Blakley died just three days after her 96th birthday. She was recovering from a fall and, Trives said, the doctors expected a full recovery.

“We had a party in the room for her” birthday, said Trives. “She was mentally sharp. Her eyes were sparkling. A few days later, she was gone.

“It's like she climbed the mountain, planted the flag and said, 'Ok, I've done it,'” he said.

“You can tell, I love my mom,” Trives added after a pause. “You only have one mother, ever.”

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