Following in the Steps of 'Icons'


The last time Charles Scripps stepped out onto a pier operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, it was in 1959 when he was just a boy.

He remembers that original wooden pier protruding from La Jolla Shores wasn’t like its modern counterpart. Maybe he was smaller or maybe the waves were bigger but he remembers more than anything the shake of the old pier every time a set would roll in.

On June 30, he stood on Scripps’s current concrete pier – surrounded by sons, grandnieces and nephews, cousins and other relatives as an elder statesman of the family for which Scripps Institution of Oceanography is named. Some 150 family members gathered to rededicate it as the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

Though many descendants of the institution’s original benefactors – E.W. Scripps and Ellen Browning Scripps – remain in the San Diego area, many others were getting a first impression of a city where their family name graces hospitals, research centers and entire city neighborhoods.

“It’s evolved into a life of its own,” said Charles Scripps, a great-grandson of E.W. Scripps. “It’s grown to something beyond what E.W. and Ellen Scripps could have imagined. I hope out of the current generation, we’ll have people who will have that vision.”

The Scripps family history has intertwined with its namesake institution ever since Scripps Oceanography’s founding in 1903.  E.W. and Ellen Scripps provided the seed money for the land where the Scripps campus is now and for the pier that E.W.’s great-grandson Charles remembered from his youth. The support has continued over the ten decades since. Private philanthropy from the Scrippses and many others have helped make the institution the world’s leading center for studies of the ocean, Earth, and atmosphere.

Many of the Scripps family members gathered Sunday measured their last visits to San Diego in terms of major events in the institution’s history. Some had come last when the modern pier was dedicated in 1988, others when Birch Aquarium at Scripps unveiled its iconic whale fountain in 1996.

Scripps Interim Director Cathy Constable remarked that E.W. Scripps’s vision for the institution was for it to be “the biggest thing of its kind in the world.”

“Thanks to the Scripps family and its legacy of interest and support — all started with the dream of E.W. and Ellen — our horizons continue to expand,” she said.

Renowned Scripps oceanographer Walter Munk, who enrolled as a student in 1939, recalled his discovery of the institution after following to San Diego a then-girlfriend who was a classmate of Peggy Scripps, whose son was among those present at the reunion. Later he was cabin mate with Sam Scripps on a nine-month cruise at the height of what is often called Scripps’s golden age of discovery. Sam Scripps, grandson of E.W., was an observer during the 1952 Capricorn Expedition, in which one group of Pacific islanders hailed the crew as heroes after their research vessel inadvertently retrieved a telephone cable intended for the island that had been lost during its original delivery.

“The family had a vision and there was risk in that vision,” said UC San Diego Vice Chancellor of External and Business Affairs Steve Relyea. “Their vision has had a wide-ranging impact. Their relationship (with Scripps Oceanography) has lasted more than 100 years and it continues today and that impact is global.”

Some members had actually begun the reunion days earlier with a family meeting in Coronado, near the boathouse that was the institution’s first locale. Bill Scripps, a Rancho Santa Fe resident and current member of the Scripps Director’s Cabinet, said in remarks he feels lucky to live locally and witness the history set in motion by his ancestors.

“It wasn’t lost on me that [the boathouse] is where it all started,” he said. “I realize I’m fortunate that I get come out to Scripps and poke around and see what’s happening.”

Mike Scagliotti, one generation younger than Bill Scripps and a San Francisco resident, sat at a table with relatives from New York and marveled at the passion of Ellen Browning Scripps that brought so many San Diego institutions to life, adding that younger generations of the family consider it an honor to carry on her public service.

“Ellen is like an icon to us,” he said.

Charles Scripps, who now lives in western Montana, acknowledged the breadth of family history contained at Scripps Oceanography and elsewhere in town. What is now the Scripps Health network throughout San Diego, he noted, started out as Scripps Memorial Hospital in 1924. It was another need that Ellen Browning Scripps had had the vision to address – in this case after her own hip injury made her keenly aware of the lack of medical services then available in town. Surveying the family members younger than him – as the children who represent the seventh generation of the family to come after E.W. and Ellen Browning Scripps played at the touch tanks set up on the pier by Birch Aquarium at Scripps and donned wetsuits supplied by the Scripps dive shop for photo opps.

“They’re just beginning to learn the depth of that,” he said.


– Robert Monroe

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