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S E C T I O N 2 Community S TO R I E S A B O U T P E O P L E A N D E V E N T S I N T H E C O M M U N I T Y Portola Valley woman adopts tortoise refugees By Kate Daly Special to the Almanac A t the Hufty-Alegria home in Portola Valley, the sign posted on the gate clearly states: “Keep out, endangered wildlife habitat.” In reality, though, Dr. Mary Hufty, a family doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, couldn’t be more welcoming in sharing her unusual pets: two California desert tortoises named Duke and Heston. Chances are they once lived in the wild since captive breeding is illegal in the state. Also known as Gopherus agassizii, the official reptile of both California and Nevada can live for up to 80 years and is naturally found in the Mojave and Sonora deserts in Southern California, Nevada and Utah. Dr. Hufty explains that the problem starts when people pick up a tortoise in the desert, and then the animals “can’t be put back out in the wild because they have colds and diseases” that could wipe out a native population. Also, pet owners can tire of taking care of a tortoise, or “get old, and die or are disabled,” and that triggers the need for a tortoise to find a new home. Dr. Hufty figures Duke and Heston probably lived in three or four homes by the time she adopted them a couple of years ago. “They’re like refugees, they came as a pair,” and are “theoretically 60 and 40 years old,” she says. Dr. Hufty’s interest in tortoises started when she was a little girl growing up in central Florida. They are one of the many natural draws on the large expanse of land where her family founded the Archbold Biological Station. She now serves as board chairman of the ecological research facility. Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Hufty’s sister-in-law surprised her with an African leopard tortoise named Leo. Dr. Hufty recalls feeling so overwhelmed with juggling a family of young kids, a husband, and a career, that she put Leo in a box to hibernate for a year. After that he became a part of the family, along with the dogs, cats and horses until he mysteriously disappeared from their yard two years ago. Dr. Hufty says, “I was sad, lonely, and felt deserted,” and that’s what led her to go online and adopt Duke and Heston. The tortoises arrived wearing endangered species tags and suffering from a respiratory illness that required six weeks’ worth of antibiotic injections. They appear healthier these days, weighing about 11 pounds each, Photo by Kate Daly Dr. Mary Hufty tends to her two adopted California desert tortoises in Portola Valley. Dr. Hufty is a family doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. with shells measuring 12 inches by 7 inches. “These guys are really mellow. They just hang out,” Dr. Hufty says, watching them explore rocks and nibble on plants and weeds in her fenced-in side yard. She feeds them alfalfa, grass, romaine lettuce, vegetables and cherries, and gives them warm baths about once a month. They spend every night and most of the winter (when they hibernate) in a wooden shed, comfortably tucked in under domes that rest on top of piglet warming pads set on low. She picks up the tortoises whenever she needs to get them quickly from point A to point B, and they occasionally make a slight hissy, clucking noise. “They’re totally gentle ... everybody loves my tortoises,” Dr. Hufty says with a smile. She belongs to the California Turtle & Tortoise Club’s Silicon Valley Chapter. The group meets in San Jose every month and has about 100 members. The organization is involved in hundreds of adoptions each year. President Gilbert Castro says lately he’s “seeing more adoptions due to lack of education,” and refers people to the club’s website,, for more information. A Former head of Phillips Brooks School Elizabeth ‘Bitsie’ Root dies Memorial services will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 21, in the amphitheater of the Phillips Brooks School, 2245 Avy Ave. in Menlo Park, for Elizabeth “Bitsie” Root, who died May 26. She was 81. A key figure in the founding of Phillips Brooks School in 1978, Ms. Root was head of school from 1982 until retiring in 1997. According to a statement from Phillips Brooks School, “Bitsie touched and influenced many lives over the years. She left an incredible mark on the culture of PBS and left a legacy of educational excellence that will be honored by generations to come.” Born Dec. 19, 1932, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Ms. Root attended Froebel Academy, and then the Berke- Elizabeth Root was active in the education community. ley Institute (now known as the Berkeley-Carroll School). After graduating from Connecticut College, where she majored in early childhood development, she started her career with a teaching job in Englewood, New Jersey. When Ms. Root visited her sister, who had moved to the Bay Area, she liked the area so much she decided to move here as well. Interested in starting a school, she joined Trinity Parish School, which opened in Menlo Park in 1961. Ms. Root later taught first grade at Phillips Brooks from 1978 to 1982. During Ms. Root’s tenure as head of Phillips Brooks, the school grew to more than 200 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. She oversaw the school’s expansion into two sections per grade. She believed in teaching moral and social values as well as academics. “When we teach responsibility, caring and sharing, children come away with the understanding that we are on earth not just to serve ourselves, but to serve others,” she said. After retiring, Ms. Root served on the boards of Castilleja School, the International School of the Peninsula, and the Charles Armstrong School. She also served on the boards of the California Association of Independent Schools and the National Association of Independent Schools. In 2010, she received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Morrissey-Compton Education Center. Ms. Root married William “Bill” Epperly in 2009. The couple met while walking in their West Menlo Park neighborhood. They soon found they had many mutual inter- ests, including classical music, opera, books, bridge and travel. They enjoyed their retirement until about two month’s before Ms. Root’s death. She fell during one of their walks, and subsequent complications overwhelmed her. She died on Memorial Day. She is survived by her husband William Epperly; sister Patricia Fouquet; brother Stephen Root; nieces Julie Fouquet, Lisa Root and Amy South; nephews David Fouquet and Michael Root; and extended family. Memorials may be made to the Elizabeth Root Endowment Fund for Tuition Assistance at Phillips Brooks; for information, call 650-854-4545, ext. 113. A June 11, 2014 NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN25

Almanac June 11, 2014 section2

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