My Surf Mum


Me, my mother and my brother Nicky in West Hollywood before a wedding in 1979.

I wrote about my mother recently in a Surf Mum posting. I spent a lot of time with my mother before she passed away. But as I wrote in my story about her, much of my childhood was spent at the beach with in the company of my mother, my dad and brother Nick.

Josephine Alexandra Fournier Dedina, 73, passed away at her home near the beach Feb. 23 from ovarian cancer. Known as Jo to family and friends, she lived in Imperial Beach with her husband of 54 years, Michel Dedina.

She was born in London, England, in 1937, the youngest of three daughters of Lou and Dorothy Fournier.

My mother and father on their wedding day in 1957 in New York City.

German bombing raids during World War II and the experience of being evacuated to the north of England later influenced her anti-war and environmental activism as well as a future career on behalf of children’s welfare.Upon moving to Imperial Beach with her family in 1971, Jo quickly became involved in ultimately successful efforts to preserve the Tijuana Estuary from development, during which time Jo met Mike and Patricia McCoy.

“I really loved her. I really did,” Patricia said.

The two woman had a lot in common. Both grew up in World War II England and shared a “wicked” sense of humor and love for the environment and justice.

“It’s hard to put it into words but she was a very spirited and principled person, and she taught her boys to fight for what was true and right and I think that it shows,” Patricia said. “She brought them up to respect these things, people rights and that sort of thing.”

My mother and my little brother Nicky at Carlsbad State Beach in the late 1960s.

In 1974, Jo and her family moved to El Salvador in Central America for a year.

There, she volunteered in an orphanage. The poverty and injustice witnessed played a role in her decision to earn a law degree at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

For 30 years, Jo specialized in juvenile justice to aid children and families across San Diego County as a public defender and judge pro tem.

The Dedinas traveled widely and lived in Paris, London, New York City, the Cornish Coast of England, Los Angeles, El Salvador and Morocco.

My brother Nicky, my mother, my Swiss Uncle Emile Moura and me. San Felipe around 1972 or 73.

Both warmhearted and quick-witted, Jo loved cooking and entertaining for family and friends.

After retiring, she spent time gardening, doting on her three grandsons, reading mystery novels and doing the daily crossword puzzle. She loved visiting family abroad, before advancing multiple sclerosis made travel too difficult.

Family members, including her niece, Zena and her husband, Martin Bray, frequently traveled from England to Imperial Beach to see her and help care for her as her health declined.

“She kept her spirit until the end and she never let people see it get her down except for close friends,” Patricia said.

Jo is survived by her husband, Michel Dedina, their two sons, Serge and Nick, and three grandsons, Israel, Daniel and Paolo.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, March 6 from 1–4 p.m. at the Dempsey Holder Safety Center in Imperial Beach in the lifeguard station.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Imperial Beach Boys & Girls Club.

Surf Mum

My little brother Nicky, my mum, my Uncle Emile Moura and me. San Felipe 1972.

My Imperial Beach  Patch column from February 2, 2011.

My first memories are of the beach with my mother or mum. Born in London just before World War II, mum has never lost the joy of spending a day by the sea.

“For me the seaside in California was like seeing oranges on trees. It was something so out of place in my life,” she said.

My mother’s pleasure in our California coast was the result of living in London during WWII where routine German bombing raids made enjoying the seaside impossible.

“Back then many people lived in London till they died and never saw a beach. We never went to the beach during the war,” she said. “Even after the war there was barbed wire all over the beaches in Cornwall.”


My parents on their wedding day.

“I remember during the war my father holding me while we watched an aerial dogfight between the RAF [Royal Air Force] and the Germans. My dad said, ‘Take a look at this because you won’t see this again.’”

“When the bombs came, we went to a shelter that had beds on each side. You could hear the sound of the bombers coming over and all of a sudden it stopped and everyone waited and my dad said, ‘Some other poor buggers got it.’”

The joyous routines of childhood during the Blitz often turned to tragedy. “I remember children queuing up for ice cream in our neighborhood and they all were bombed. More than 20 died.”

Later my grandmother Dolly was caught at home during when a bomb hit. “The entire house collapsed. But your grandmother hid under the portable metal bomb shelter in the dining room. My father came home from work to the rescue crews going through the house and they found her.”

Mum’s first trip to the coast was after the war.

“Pop, my sister’s father-in-law, took my sister Jill and me to the seaside in a big beautiful car. On the way there we saw castles and then Pop pulled off the road to stop. In the distance, we could see this big shimmering pool and Pop said it was the sea. We were so excited when we arrived and could make sandcastles.”

In the 1950s, my mother met my father, a French-American serviceman, in London. Later they married and ended up moving west to Los Angeles.

When I was a child during the mid to late 1960s, mother would take me to the beach to bake me in the sun. She always had a picnic basket ready with cold roast chicken, French bread, homemade mayonnaise and fresh fruit.

“We went to the beach almost everyday at either Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu,” she recalled.

My mother and my little brother Nicky at Carlsbad State Beach in the late 1960s.

“Back in those days, people used to think I was crazy to take you to the beach in the winter. But the weather in L.A. compared to England was lovely.”

When we moved to Imperial Beach in 1971, mother led our family and neighborhood children to the mouth of the Tijuana Estuary for all day picnics among the dunes. Enamored to the beauty of our backyard habitat, mother became involved in efforts to preserve it.

In 1974 our family spent a year in El Salvador. We camped at tropical beaches throughout Mexico and Central America.

“I never imaged seeing my son with a surfboard,” she said when I started surfing in 1977 at the age of thirteen.

Mum once took my friends and me for a surf trip to northern Baja in our 1964 VW Van. While we surfed K-38’s, she cooked up pancakes in the dirt parking lot.

For my proper English mother, the only downside to my surfing was that, “You and your friends sounded idiotic talking about surfing. I used to think, ‘What happened to my formerly intelligent oldest son?’”

My mother, Josephine Alexandria Fournier Dedina, retired from her career as an attorney and Judge Pro Tem a few years ago to enjoy her three grandchildren.

Me, my mother and my brother Nicky in West Hollywood before a wedding in 1979.

At the wedding of Kay Goutin in L.A. 1979.

She now has terminal cancer.

In the afternoons after work, I sit with my mum at her home near the Sloughs. We drink cups of tea and talk about when my brother and I were little and my mother opened a magical doorway to a lovely life filled with sunny beach days.

I will never forget that the best days of my life and hers were spent in the company of our family, at the seaside.

(Note my mother passed away a few weeks after I published this in February 2011).

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