Pat Healy, singer and restaurateur, dies at 92

Light photo
Powerhouse Pat Healy bought the Station House Café for $5,000 in 1974, after taking out a loan.  
01/09/2020

Pat Healy, a jazz singer and actress who owned restaurants in West Marin and was known for her vibrancy, community involvement and strong will, died on Dec. 8. She was 92 years old.

Pat moved from Los Angeles to Point Reyes Station in 1972, leaving behind her only marriage and a career in show business. The new life she built in West Marin was one of independence and hard work. Her instrumental role in the community was defined not only by her success as a restaurateur, but also by her political activism and deep love for the natural world—her horses, her organic garden and the wild of the seashore at her doorstep.  

“Pat was one of the few people I’ve ever met who, when she pursued something, she did so with full heart and soul,” said Itsu Raymond, a friend from her years in Los Angeles. “When she decided she wanted to be an actress, she was good. When she was a jazz singer before that, she was very good. This was the one thing I always felt about Pat: she was whole-hearted. She owned not one restaurant but several, and this was someone who had no business interests.”

Pat was born on March 28, 1927 and grew up in Cleveland with her mother, who supported herself singing at speakeasies and nightclubs. An infant during the Depression years, Pat was sometimes left alone in a drawer at night. Her mother was remarried to Charles Benedict, who later had two daughters, Melinda Benedict and Stacy Popovich. 

Pat set her sights on California at a young age. Itsu recounted a story about Pat's teenage years: She attended a Woody Herman concert in Cleveland, made friends with the band, and nearly hopped on a plane to San Francisco when she learned it was their next stop. “She was so young, 16 or 17 at that time, and I think someone called her mother,” Itsu said. “But she did make her way there eventually.”

At age 22, Pat moved to L.A., where she put herself through several years of college before getting by solely on her creative talents. She toured as a jazz singer, including with the Ray Anthony Orchestra, and at home began acting in theater and on television. Jeff Corey, one of the most sought-after teachers in Hollywood, directed her theater troupe; her colleagues became big names in the industry—Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Perkins. In 1958, Pat produced her only album, Just Before Dawn, which has moody orchestral backing from cellist and composer Fred Katz.  

In the early 60s, Pat married Leonard Hural, a dentist with two children, Kirsten and John. Together, they lived on a canal in Venice. During their 12-year marriage, Pat shifted somewhat from singing and acting to home life, at times working in her husband’s office.

Pat first came to Point Reyes when she and Leonard took a road trip to visit friends. Speaking to the Tomales Bay Times in 1977, Pat described her first drive to the Point: “It was one of those wild, foggy, windy days, where every now and then you’d get a glimpse of the ocean below. I said stop the car—I don’t know where I am, but I think I’m at the end of the world… I think I decided that day that I wanted to live here.”

Pat told the Light in 2008 that in the leadup to her decision to leave Los Angeles, she lost a baby in her third trimester of pregnancy, her agent passed away unexpectedly, and her marriage began falling apart. It was time for a change.

She bought a six-acre property in the early ‘70s on the mesa in Point Reyes Station, where she would remain until her death. At first, she made a living growing organic vegetables, which she sold out of her truck downtown. She also worked as a technician for the local veterinarian, John Zimmerman.

In 1974, Pat bought the Station House Café, which then operated out of the building that now houses Osteria Stellina. Pat told the story to the Marin Independent Journal in 1993. “I was downtown one day and saw the for-sale sign at the Station House Café. I knew something good was about to happen to me; I just didn’t know what,” she said. “I asked the owner how much she wanted and she said $5,000 so I called my friend Jackie Chase. We decided she’d be the dishwasher and chef and I’d be the front-person. I went to my banker, Lou Steinberg—bankers were different then—and said ‘Loan me $5,000. I have to buy the Station House Café.’”

The late historian Jack Mason had owned the café before selling it to Claudia Woodward, who sold it to Pat. According to Dewey Livingston, who inherited Jack’s role as the local historian, the story goes that Jack—formerly an editor with the Oakland Tribune who bought the business in his retirement—decided to study history after encountering all the stories told by local customers as they dined.

Pat had her work cut out for her. Six months in, she bought out her partner; it was an amicable parting, but Jackie couldn’t keep up with the long days. The Light reported that Pat estimated she was working up to 80 hours a week, making about 90 cents an hour. She was doing it all: she took the laundry home at night and washed it herself in a five-gallon bucket.

Melinda Benedict, Pat’s stepsister, worked for Pat and described her commitment and her vision. “She wanted it to be a place, especially in the winter, where locals could congregate,” she said. “There was always music in the bar, and on a cold, rainy night, it was packed.” Melinda added, “She was a powerhouse, headstrong. She knew what she wanted and she was going to get it. She woke up at 5 a.m., worked all day, was there at night, did whatever needed to be done.”

A story by Jeanette Pontacq published in 2008 in the Light describes Pat’s ownership as the start of a new era. “The hippies (as they were called, affectionately and not affectionately) smoked dope, hung out and did the wonderful thing of starting the original Dance Palace. They brought a unique energy and added themselves to the ranching culture that had started the town and the monied people who lived part time in Inverness, some of whom were starting to buy up land for permanent residences. For the most part they ate at the Station House,” she wrote.

Pat found success. In 1988, she bought the building where the restaurant stands today from George and Shirley Ball, who operated the Two Ball Inn, a bar and restaurant. Pat remodeled the building—where the original Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s two-story depot originally stood—and moved in, doubling her size.

Dave Mitchell, the former publisher of the Light, had met friends for breakfast in Pat’s old location nearly every day. To encourage this continued practice, Pat moved the exact table where they liked to sit—table six—to the new location up the street.

Lee Giammona said she and her husband, Butch, were friends with Pat for decades. “Pat’s favorite thing to do, and we joined her often, was to sit at the end of the bar with her martini and have people come and visit and talk,” Lee said. “And for hours, we would sit like that, sharing enjoyment and comradery.” 

But one restaurant wasn’t enough for Pat. In 1980, she took over a bakery where the Inverness Park Market's Tap Room stands today, and in 1982, she took over the Gray Whale, in downtown Inverness. In 1996, she bought Barnaby’s Golden Hinde in Inverness, and in 1990, she opened Taqueria La Quinta in the building where the Station House originally stood. She downsized before long, however, keeping only the two Point Reyes Station restaurants. 

Pat admitted to the Marin Independent Journal that she had taken on a “bit more than I could chew.” She explained her love for the business: “In a way, acting’s a little like running a restaurant—all that attention. There are other reasons for acting. There’s a cycle with an audience. You put something out, they get it and give it back to you. It’s indescribable. It’s heaven. It’s the ultimate natural high.”

Pat did not retire until she was 78 years old. In 2006, the taqueria became Rosie’s Cowboy Cookhouse, which Pat sold to Christian Caiazzo—who still operates Osteria Stellina—two years later. In 2005, she sold the Station House to her manager, Sheryl Cahill, the current owner.

Sheryl had started waiting tables at the Station House in 1990. A decade later, she left to earn an anthropology degree from the University of California, Berkeley, but came back to the restaurant for what she thought would be a brief stint. It was around the time Pat hoped to retire.

“When I first started as manager, Pat didn’t take the time to talk about the nuts and bolts about the service,” Sheryl said. “She took me under her wing to introduce me to all the locals, and to tell me the story of Point Reyes. That was the most important thing that I learned from her and her experience: People and place were the most important thing. It has always been more than a place to eat; it has been a meeting place for locals, due to Pat’s understanding that that is what holds community together—relationships.”

Sheryl said much has stayed the same at the restaurant over the years, “which is the beauty of it: there’s continuity.” Employees stay, and some have been there for decades. Staples of the menu, including the Mexican omelet—Monterey jack, salsa, sour cream and avocado—burgers, fish n’ chips and turkey chili are the same. Sheryl said Pat first started serving popovers instead of bread at the start of the meal because it was too expensive to buy bread. The popovers continue to be a favorite.

Although Pat’s hope to have an organic farm of her own never came to fruition, she sourced from early food pioneers, including Bill Niman, who raises cattle in Bolinas, and Warren Weber of Star Route Farms.

For years, the Mainstreet Moms met at the backroom of the Station House. Pat was a founding member of the group, which was started in Bolinas in 2004 in response to the election of George W. Bush. “By opening up the restaurant, we were able to attract people that might have been shy about meeting at someone’s house. Our first endeavor was to write letters to single moms in swing states. Probably hundreds if not thousands of letters flew out of the Station House that year,” described Kris Brown, another founding member.

Pat was an avid Democrat. “She was really passionate about women’s issues,” Kris said. “She spoke not only passionately, but could pull out pertinent information. She was very well-informed.”

Pat attended the meetings for years, even when her health made it difficult for her to leave the house, and she hosted the group’s annual holiday parties. And her activism did not stop there. She was involved in the former Point Reyes Business Association, the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, the village association and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

Melinda said West Marin was a true home for Pat. “She loved Point Reyes, she never wanted to live anywhere else. It was a little too out there for me, too far away from the happenings, but not for her. She loved being in nature, she loved the wild animals. She looked over the headlands of Tomales Bay, all the birds that come there, from her house,” Melinda said.

Pat was an avid horsewoman, and her last horse, Dean Mountain Honey Rose, “was the love of her life,” Melinda said. She left behind a dog, Little Girl, a shih tzu.

Toward the end of her life, Pat was afflicted by several health issues, including macular degeneration, which affected her vision. Martha Borge, a longtime Point Reyes Station resident, said that years ago, Pat had bought several of her paintings that depicted horses, but the two hadn’t become close until recent years, when she offered to read to Pat.

“We often digressed,” Martha, herself 91, said of their weekly reading sessions. “She had a wonderful sense of humor, we laughed a lot, we got to know each other’s pasts. Because she had been a singer, if a song came up in any of the books we were reading, we would both start singing. I would go for a minute and then forget the words, but she would remember every single word, every single verse.” Martha added, “She was really so bright.”

 

A memorial for Pat Healy will be held on March 21 at the Dance Palace.