A remarkable life: Dee Hardison, 1938-2017: “Tenacious” former mayor loved Torrance and the community loved her back
October 1, 2017
Former two-term Torrance Mayor Dee Hardison, a special-education teacher whose interest in getting a neighborhood park built evolved into a quarter-century of distinguished city government service, died late Saturday following a stroke she suffered just before Labor Day. She was 79.
Hardison spent her final days in local hospice care in a room decorated in the crimson-and-gray colors of the Torrance High Tartars.
“Dee was so much a part of Torrance and our organization and really who we are,” said longtime City Manager LeRoy Jackson. “She is someone who had such an impact on this community and our city family.”
Former Mayor Frank Scotto, who served two years with Hardison on the council early in his political career, said he regarded her as his mentor, admiring her ability to foster teamwork on the panel.
“She was a person of character and integrity and a person who cares not only for the community, but all the residents in Torrance,” he said. “She was one of the hardest working politicians while in office and after being in office.”
Hardison, who also spent eight years as a City Council member and almost a decade on the Parks and Recreation and Planning Commissions, was a 2011 recipient of the Jared Sidney Torrance Award, which recognizes an individual’s sustained service to the community and is considered the city’s highest honor.
What was described as her “unparalleled history of volunteer service” also led to Hardison’s recognition as Torrance YMCA Woman of the Year, Switzer Center South Bay Woman of the Year and a Cal State Dominguez Hills Distinguished Alumni.
“I’ve always been a bit of a joiner of activities,” Hardison once said. “I tend to be a better leader than a follower. It’s a life-long attitude to be involved.”
The sports center at Wilson Park is named in her honor, as is the Hanley Hardison Institute at LA BioMedical Research Institute near Torrance.
“Dee served as the chair of the board of directors of LA BioMed from 2002 through 2006, one of the greatest periods of productivity and growth up to that point,” said David Meyer, CEO and president.
Born Delores Grinton on Jan. 22, 1938, in Bellingham, Washington, she was one of nine children born to Walter and June Grinton.
She graduated in 1960 from Western Washington University, where she met her future husband, Lowell Hardison, who worked for Boeing. The two wed soon after her graduation.
Hardison later received a master’s degree from Cal State Long Beach.
Hardison taught at Lincoln High School in Seattle before the pair moved, initially to Reno, Nevada. The couple moved to Torrance in 1967 near what is now Sur La Brea Park.
At the time the park didn’t exist, although their real estate agent said it would soon be built, something she wanted to see occur relatively quickly for the couple’s two sons.
After a few years and no sign of the park, Hardison began mobilizing the neighborhood to persuade the city to build the spearhead the park..
That successful campaign turned into an extended stint on the Parks and Recreation Commission, while she also worked as a physical education teacher and later a special-education instructor for the Torrance Unified School District. She taught at Calle Mayor and Hull middle schools and Torrance High.
Hardison was elected to the City Council in 1986 and became mayor in 1994.
“We’re a large city, but with a small-town feeling,” Hardison was quoted as saying about her leadership philosophy. “Our community wants to have its mayor visible and accessible.”
For instance, Hardison spent several days immediately after 9/11 at Del Amo Fashion Center.
“People wanted to talk,” she recalled. “They wanted to know, ‘Are we OK, are we safe?’ ”
School board member Don Lee, who served with Hardison both on the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council, remembered her as “dynamic and tenacious.”
“If she wanted to get something done or changed, there was no one in the community better to have on your side because she would work and work and work and work until things changed, “ he said. “She was very good at herding all the Type-A personalities to at least work on a collaborative basis.”
Hardison oversaw the expansion of the Civic Center library, establishment of the Madrona Marsh Nature Preserve and redevelopment of Old Torrance.
But she was also mayor in the late 1990s, when city officials quietly signed off on a court order with ExxonMobil, then-owner of the Torrance refinery, that allowed the plant to use modified hydrofluoric acid, which was supposedly safer than the purer form of the potentially deadly and toxic gas in use at the time.
But today, federal officials have said they can find no evidence that MHF is any safer than unmodified HF, meaning thousands of residents have, unknown to them, been at increased risk for potential death or serious injury for years.
Hardison is one of the few council members of that era who has never spoken publicly about that decision and why it was never made public.
A partial list of her community affiliations included more than 25 years as an active member of the Torrance Education Foundation and board chair for LINC Housing, a nonprofit group that builds housing for seniors and families throughout the state.
The feeling between Torrance residents who knew and respected Hardison and her love of the community was mutual, making it a “wonderful” place to live, as she once said.
“The value of the city of Torrance is they don’t make change quickly,” Hardison said. “The community doesn’t forget you.”
In addition to her husband, Lowell, Hardison is survived by two sons, Mark and Brad Hardison, and two grandchildren.
Services are pending.