Updated: Jul 19, 2019
Written By Tom Gable
Dave Thomson, third generation Californian, was born and raised in Los Angeles. He skipped a grade in elementary school and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1947, at age 17. He did one year in a prep school in the east and returned to Los Angeles for one year at Los Angeles City College before enrolling at SDSU in the summer of 1949.
The campus had about 3,500 students then. He stood in line to register, behind just 20 others, and paid $10 a unit for his classes. Epsilon Eta, the colony, joined SAE that fall. Dave rushed in the fall but didn’t know anyone so he waited, as a “pocket pledge,” to join in the spring semester. Famous members of Epsilon Eta included Dick Lareau, who moved to UC Berkeley to pursue his architecture degree (later put to work on the SAE house on College Place).
SAE didn’t have a fraternity house, so some of the brothers rented a house off Laurel Street and Albatross Street overlooking Maple Canyon. They ran it like a fraternity house, renting it to SAE to have meetings on Monday and cocktail parties on the weekend. The fraternity later moved to its first house on Saranac Street in La Mesa.
“The Korean war was in full bloom so my stepfather, a Navy captain, encouraged me to join the Navy Reserve to stay out of draft,” Dave recalled. “I was in the submarine Reserve. Its meetings and our fraternity meetings were both on Mondays. So, I would go every other week to SAE and then every other week to the Navy. I got a postcard saying that due to lousy drill attendance, I had to report for active duty.”
His stepfather told Dave that his college work made him eligible for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program.
“That sounded a lot better than submarines, so I took the tests, got accepted and off I went to flight training in Pensacola, Florida,” Dave said. “I earned my commission and wings. I ended up retiring after 20 years of active duty, plus ten years of reserve.”
In the middle of flight training, North Korea surrendered, so he missed combat. Dave said he flew everything that had one engine and one seat, including fighter planes and trainers. He liked the F-9 Grumman Cougar, a swept wing fighter. He had just one tour in the Pacific about the carrier Essex.
“No one was shooting, but we did help get Chang Kai-shek out of China,” Dave said. He is also proud of the fact that the had an “equal number of take offs and landings” from the carrier. His stepfather was an inspiration, having flowing F-6 Hellcats off aircraft carriers during World War II.
During his Navy career, he was stationed in San Diego several times. He bought a little house in 1964 in South Mission Beach, on the bayside, which he fixed up over the years and where he currently lives. Because he flew single engine planes, versus multi-engine planes, the airline industry wasn’t an option.
After the Navy, Dave worked with Woodward, Clyde, a civil engineering firm, in San Diego.
“We did a lot of work dredging Mission Bay, which was mostly swamp land back then,” Dave said. “Our job was to find good sand for dredging, versus dirt. The channel was just opened and much work needed to be done. Amazing to see what Mission Bay has become.”
Housing development engineering was another specialty. Dave said the firm did a lot of grading for new housing tracts, ‘knocking off top of hills and filling up the canyons, which wouldn’t go well today,” he said.
Dave married in 1956 and was divorced in 1965. The couple had four children, three boys and girl. The boys live in Pacific Beach (Robert), Del Mar (Bradley) and La Jolla (Kelly). The daughter, Kathy, is in Encinitas. Grandchildren?
“More than I can count!” Dave said, but then did the math and got to eight.
Dave remarried a local girl and Kappa Alpha Theta, Barbara North, of Point Loma, and sister of Lowell North, Epsilon Eta, and founder of a noted sail making company bearing his name. They lived in La Jolla, until her passing following a stroke.
Dave enjoys retirement, staying in touch with friends and fraternity brothers and indulging in one of the most popular sports in South Mission Beach: sitting on the front patio and watching the passing parade of characters and beauties, in various stages of dress or undress. He has stayed active with the fraternity alumni association and enjoys the camaraderie. Best memories of SAE?
“It’s a great organization,” Dave said. “The younger guys have added some new energy. SAE has had a great reputation over the years and it’s fun to be a member, no matter what your generation.”