Alexandra Pollyea

September 16, 1957—March 14, 2012

A Woman of Many Hats

By Ross Altman

Author, media consultant, screenwriter, nature lover, gardener, public relations director, and web site developer, Alexandra Pollyea was a woman who wore many hats, including the one she wore as a musician with her partner Derek Dickson in the folk duo The Hats. Alexandra passed away at home March 14, 2012, in her 54th year after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.

She had many circles of friends who virtually never intermixed, and each felt she was somehow the hub. This included media groups like her clients at the Los Angeles Times, AOL and Disney Online; the world of art that she contributed to from her post as Director of Public Relations and Marketing at the Santa Monica Art Museum; the realm of education from her alumni group at one of the Seven Sisters women’s college Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania—where she graduated Magna Cum Laude, with Honors in History, to join the ranks of Katharine Hepburn—their most famous graduate. Wherever she went she was “a sparkling star” as her partner Derek Dickson so memorably described her. From her most recent position at the Otis College of Art and Design, their Communications Director Margi Reeve remembers her with great clarity and fondness:

“Alexandra was the media relations manager at Otis College of Art and Design from February 2011 through July 2011. She coordinated media outreach, regularly contributed to Facebook and other social media channels, wrote features for our magazine, scheduled and art directed photographers and videographers, and developed a crisis communication strategy. More importantly, Alexandra was “on the beat” every day, gathering stories of the accomplishments of our students and faculty, and placing them in appropriate media. She also planned a major press preview for the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 exhibition at Otis, bringing her usual creativity and spark to the events.  Alexandra was the first person to hold this position, and found her way into the hearts of all at Otis.”

From her NYC high school classmates and fellow chorus members Eve and Meredith her musical and whimsical side emerges, even at this young age:


I remember Alexandra singing this song, Dominique, on her guitar, which I thought was lovely:

Alexandra singing this song

Other favorite few memories from me: Skating together in Wollman Memorial Skating Rink (in Central Park, NYC), presenting lab results, as partners, in Biology class in HS and arguing about the data interpretation (we never practiced our presentation, but just drafted the graphs together!); teasing Alexandra and calling her Moose in middle school, because of the two ponytails she wore of thick brown curls on either side of her head; drinking way too much in our early 20s and having to rescue Alexandra at a party at Gladys' house in Brooklyn Heights. (That was the last time Alexandra drank except for an occasional; glass of wine.)

And from Meredith: “I wish I lived close enough to be there. I'll always associate Alex with singing madrigals together.”

Before moving out west Alexandra earned her law degree at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Soon thereafter she wrote a book for Teaching Tolerance, a project of The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees in Montgomery, Alabama to fight hate crimes and instill values of racial understanding in the spirit of Martin Luther King. In 1990, after she earned an MFA in Cinematic Arts at USC, she launched an initiative and waged a four-year battle royal urging an end to the glorification of handgun violence in the movies.  Alexandra’s pen was mightier than many a sword and gun; as she took on the mantle of “This Pen for Hire,” or “Have Pen, Will Travel,” she became a nonviolent Paladin using her skills as a writer to fight battles on many fronts—including the United Nations, where she had earned an International Baccalaureate at the United Nations International School. Indeed, her Honors in History degree at Bryn Mawr may have reflected the fact that she grew up in a family that saw history being made and was involved in the founding of the UN, as her father was the official stenographer at the Yalta Summit in 1945, where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin planned the postwar world. He later joined the United Nations until his retirement.

Like Paladin, Alexandra picked her battles carefully but once committed she was fearless and thorough in confronting the darkest forces in our society: While the early 90s became known as the Decade of Greed, Alexandra put her focus on social need; as Director of Entertainment Resources she poured her abundant energies into the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, where she created and managed an initiative designed to raise awareness of gun violence prevention as an important focus for coverage in television, film, and music projects. With her mighty pen she took on nothing less than the NRA, to develop an advocacy support base, implement outreach plans, create marketing material, conduct fundraising, organize special events, and be press liaison for the entire project.

(Photo by Derek Dickson)
As this beautiful picture of her illustrates Alexandra was also a lover of nature who counted the National Geographic Society among her illustrious clients; she was a master gardener and, closest to her heart, she contributed her passion and compassion to the rescue of injured and abandoned animals, becoming a supporter of Happy Acre Sanctuary. [Friends who wish to remember her with a gift may do so to them.]

As a freelance writer and editor she wrote the travel guide 52 Adventures In and Around Los Angeles, each of which she researched and embarked on herself, two non-fiction books, and scripts for a television show. Alexandra was also a member of the national society of children’s book authors and illustrators.

In addition to the natural world and the multifaceted world of entertainment and law Alexandra mastered the Internet and made that her third home in her work life; she cultivated (primarily content) web sites for Full Moon Interactive and Content Strategist. She wrote, edited, and acquired web content, designed site architectures and assessed user experience issues. Her clients included Dell, Citibank, Cal Fed and the Hollywood Sign Trust, and eventually included such household names as Mattel, Fox Family Worldwide, DirecTV, Jamison/Gold and eHobbies. No wonder she was chosen to become Digital City Los Angeles (AOL), Feature Editor, where she developed, researched, wrote, and edited content for the Los Angeles bureau. She created and produced Citywise, an online column about Southern California resources and activities. Like Alice going through the looking glass she then expanded to produce online chats to keep computer users fully engaged.

And finally, almost an afterthought as one becomes astonished by her many accomplishments and commitments, there was her music. With her devoted and loving partner Derek Dickson, whom she met at The Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club, she formed The Hats, a performing duo of contemporary folk music, blues and ragtime songs. The Hats lit up the stages of The Talking Stick Coffeehouse in Venice, Boulevard Music, House of Brews and, coming full circle, on a party bus in conjunction with the weekly "Art Walk" in downtown Los Angeles, and at a festival in Pasadena. As her musical world blossomed, however, and Alexandra became known around town, she always maintained her roots with the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club and the Beach Cities Traditional Folk Music Club.

Her final year was absorbed in a very private battle with breast cancer, with which she characteristically refused to burden her friends. Derek summed up her life with simple and unadorned eloquence:  “Loved by everyone she knew, with her bright sparkling personality, Alexandra was always doing things for people and helping people to come up with ideas to make their lives better. She was a bright sparkling star.”

Again, characteristically, she died at home. Everyone whose lives she touched will keep her close in his or her own hearts. In the end, Keats may have described her best; truth is beauty, he wrote, and truth beauty: Alexandra was a beautiful soul, a wonderful musician and a courageous advocate for social change.  She could have adorned his Grecian Urn.

A celebration of Alexandra Pollyea’s life will be held at the Friends Meeting House in Santa Monica at 1440 Harvard St on Sunday, April 15, 2012, from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. There will be a memorial program in the first half, followed by dinner on the patio and open music song circle in the social hall afterwards. All are invited. If the parking lot is full there is parking on Santa Monica Blvd just north of the Friends Meeting House.

Ross Altman may be reached at © 2012 Grey Goose Music (BMI)