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Rose Rodrigues da Fonta Verrall (1883 – 1964) knew that giving to the community is an inherent part of life in Marin. But giving one’s entire inheritance of shoreline property to become a wildlife sanctuary is extraordinary generosity. This is the story of an incredible gift by a unique woman known as “Tiburon’s Goat Lady.”
Rose Rodriques da Fonta immigrated with her parents from the Portuguese Azores in 1886 when she was three years old. They were tenant farmers at the Reed family’s ranch in Tiburon. Rosie grew up on the eleven acre knoll along the shore of Richardson Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay.
A romance developed between young John Paul Reed and Rosie, but it was squelched by his family and John never married. Before his death in 1919, Reed gave Rosie and other long-time ranch tenants parcels of his land. Rosie now owned the eleven wondrous acres overlooking the Golden Gate, where she grew up and still lived.
She stayed on the knoll after her marriage to Arthur Verrall in 1933, witnessing the seasons, wildflowers and flocks of migratory water fowl. Rosie also witnessed developers fill her beloved marshes for construction. She found these changes alarming, and she was determined that her property and its abundant wildlife would not fall to the developers.
In 1957, Caroline Livermore and Elizabeth Terwilliger, legendary Marin conservationists, persuaded Rosie to donate her precious eleven acres to the National Audubon Society as headquarters for the Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Her parcel was the key to saving the 900-acre bay from being filled, and to preserving the Tiburon shoreline for public use. Her donation is considered the single most important act of environmental preservation in the history of Marin County. Her gift opened the door to saving San Francisco Bay and protecting all the great bays of Marin as open space.
Rose Verrall understood the impact development would have on the quality of life, and she had the confidence and support to do something about it. Because of her determination Rose was able to preserve a unique part of the threatened landscape. And generosity! Who among us would give all we owned to the community? Only Rosie.
About those goats: turns out Rose was green before her time. She considered her goats not only as pets, but as efficient lawn mowers. Hats off to Rose Verrall, one of Marin’s treasures. (For more details, see Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast: The Battles for Audubon Canyon Ranch, Point Reyes, & California’s Russian River by Rosie’s doctor, Martin Griffin.)