Catalina Island lost one of its own on February 20, 2018. Helen (Greig) Wilson, 96, of Garden Grove is believed to have been the first non-native born on Catalina Island’s Isthmus on July 10, 1921.
She was the 3rd of 4 children (Elizabeth, Jim, Helen and Bill) of Bill (aka Jack) and Frances (Vincon) Greig who first moved to the Island in 1916 from Los Angeles because Bill had been selected to help supervise the mining and shipping of rock from the Empire Landing rock quarry. The rock was transported by barge to the mainland to build the breakwater areas. Because the rock quarry was so far away from any community, the men were allowed to bring their wives and families with them to live at Empire Landing.
Bill was a second-generation stonecutter and the first in his Scottish linage to be born in America, in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1880. Bill was the oldest of 11 siblings: 2 born in Quincy, MA; 1 in Scotland 2 in Barre, VT; and 6 in California. Bill was just 8 and youngest brother at the time was just 2 weeks old when the family traveled west from Barre, Vermont to California. Also his father James had already left for California 6 months earlier, so it was just his mother Elizabeth that made the trip with the children. That must have been some trip—the Greig’s were from tough stock.
All of Bill and Frances’ children were born on the Island but Helen was the only one born at the Isthmus because she arrived before Frances could make it in to Avalon. In fact, she was born before Doctor J.J. Peckham could arrive by boat from Avalon to deliver her. Helen’s sister, Elizabeth used to say that she arrived early because Helen was anxious to make her appearance…and it was around 5pm and Helen wanted to make it in time for “Happy Hour”. At one time, Helen pointed out to visiting family members that she was delivered right about the spot where the swing set sat at the Isthmus park area.
In 1920, after the Wrigley’s took over Catalina Island and in 1919, they arranged for the Greigs to manage all of the Wrigley concessions at the Isthmus. There are a couple of pages dedicated to the Greig family and their involvement with the development of the Isthmus in Bill White’s book: Santa Catalina Island, It’s Magic, People, and History.
At that time, the S. S. Cabrillo took passengers around the Island each day with a stop at the Isthmus (now Two Harbors). Later the S. S. Cabrillo was used to make the Avalon/Wilmington trip back and forth daily with a stop at the Isthmus. Each day David Renton would phone the Greigs to give them the number of passengers that would leave the ship and stay over for dinner after touring the Civil War barracks and the Chinese Junk, Ning Po, located in Catalina Harbor. Passengers were fed Frances’ famous abalone chowder and other meats prepared at the Isthmus.
The tourists could then return to Avalon by water or motor stage transportation.
Growing up on the Island, the Greigs lived in several different locations including Empire Landing, the Isthmus, Button Shell Beach, Middle Ranch and several different houses in Avalon. The children attended school in Avalon as there was no school at the Isthmus.
The year 1940 was a big one for Helen as she graduated from Avalon High that year and in October she married her husband John Wilson of a native of Los Angeles. The two had met at the Casino Theatre where Helen worked, and they were married for 57 years until John’s death in 1997. Both were avid golfers and Charter members of Old Ranch Golf Club in Seal Beach.
Besides golf, Helen loved traveling and did so to Scotland, England, Mexico, Germany, Egypt, Africa and Canada as well as many of the states and she played golf at most of the countries/states.
She also loved playing cards (pretty much any game anyone wanted to play and she usually won), doing jigsaw puzzles, reading and spending time with family, all of whom miss and love her very much.
Helen is survived by sister-in-law and partner-in-crime Mary Greig; best friend Ruth Sandberg; goddaughters Gay (Bob) Anderson (children Kelly [Hank] Snapp and Jude Sandberg; nieces/nephews Kristina (Bill) Fortier (children Ananda and Shauna Vance), James (Karen) Greig, Jeff (Shelly) Greig (children Courtney [Dustin] DeRouchey, Dr. Chasen [Caitlin] Greig, Collin [Kirsten] Greig), Sharon (Les) Chang, Nancy (Joe) Cahill; and great-great nieces/nephews Gregory and Grant Cook, Eli and Juniper Greig, and Duke DeRouchey; and great-great goddaughter Tristen Snapp.
According to Helen’s wishes, she was cremated and her ashes will later be scattered by family members in a private ceremony.