Paxson Headley Offield 1951 – 2015
To immortalize a great leader in ancient times, the people left behind would acknowledge their passing then add a rousing chorus of “Long Live the King.” While Paxson would never accept such exalted recognition, the reality is he was a natural leader who inspired and improved the lives of countless people by his own example. He loved his family above all else. His wife Susan, two sons Chase (Jena), Calen (Amber), and three grandchildren Capri, Christian and Owen, daughter Kelsey, his brother James and stepson Rex, survive him. His heritage of belonging to one of America’s most beloved and philanthropic families carried great responsibility that he proudly accepted. His time on earth was largely dedicated to a sincere appreciation for the human cause, respect for tradition, strong work ethics, high moral values, and preservation of nature in all its forms.
Paxson possessed an inner strength that enabled him to accomplish many things.
One example on a personal level was his ability to reach out and solve others problems while seldom burdening them with his own. He often knew more than most, but typically spared embarrassing the misinformed, preferring a quiet enlightening approach. He was a master at uniting causes, a complex and highly accomplished man with a disarmingly kind and helpful demeanor. He was so approachable with his warm smile and inquisitive and relaxed manner. The efforts he championed in Southern California alone are legendary. The historian once reminded him of a quote claimed by Ronald Reagan but originally stated by Mr. William Wrigley Jr. that fit him so well – “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t take the credit.”
There will be numerous tributes by friends and admirers, some not familiar to us in California. He was so many things to so many people, in so many parts of the world.
Rather than attempting to acknowledge his many accomplishments, this remembrance will focus on some of his work in Southern California. And as he often preferred “Packy”, let’s affectionately and with all respect, refer to him with this warm sobriquet. To us he was a beloved fellow member of the Tuna Club of Santa Catalina Island, the conservationist who made a difference.
Packy attended two exclusive preparatory schools, The Latin School for Boys in Chicago and later the Catalina Island School for Boys at Toyon Bay. His remarkable character was undoubtedly influenced by their special curriculum. He went on to graduate from the University of Denver but returned to the island in his infamous jeep to teach at the Catalina Island School at Two Harbors in 1975.
In 1976, Packy became the fourth in his family since Mr. Wrigley purchased the island 1919 to join the storied Santa Catalina Island Company. Established in 1894, it remains the only entity with a longer history on Catalina Island than the Tuna Club. Thru his 30-year tenure as a Board member, he assisted people and business interests in every corner of the island in different capacities, including Chairman of the Board. Local businesses and residents alike received a wide range of support from the SCI that improved their lives and livelihoods. He loved the town of Avalon and nurtured it with his benevolent guidance.
He began meeting Tuna Club members in those early days through our mutual assistance with the Avalon Hospital, but he already knew more about the Tuna Club than most. His great grandfather William Wrigley Jr. became a member soon after purchasing Catalina Island in 1919, followed by Philip K. Wrigley and his father Wrigley “Bud” Offield.. The previous owner of the Santa Catalina Island Company, now operated by the Wrigley and Offield families, originally donated the existing site of the Tuna Clubhouse.
The Wrigley and Offield families made national news in 1972, when they deeded over 42,000 acres owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company to the newly formed Catalina Island Conservancy. This created the largest private land trust in Southern California. Packy’s legendary work as it first Chairman and one of its Benefactors, along with Alison Wrigley Rusack and Dr. Robert Given, came about at a changing time in social conscience regarding our natural resources. Under their stewardship, a renowned team of experts saved the island’s 60 indigenous animals, plants and insects from almost certain extinction. The effort served as a model for international conservation efforts. Packy also served on the Board of the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species of the San Diego Zoological Society and recipient of their 2006 Conservation Medal.
His involvement in the research of reproductive problems facing the Bald Eagle population at Catalina Island led to their survival and made national news. Working with the San Diego Zoological Society, he was instrumental in funding the successful effort to save the California condor from the brink of extinction. This family interest, heralding back to his great grandparents’ world famous aviary in Avalon, took him to far-away places. As Chairman of the Peregrine Fund, the President of Panama personally presented him with the Comendador Award, one of the nation’s highest civilian awards, for helping save their national bird, the Harpy’s Eagle, from the brink of extinction.
Packy joined the Tuna Club in 1987, having been sponsored by Bob Main. He was extremely proud of his membership and perhaps even more so when his sons Chase and Calen became a part of the tradition. They represent the most enduring family membership in our club’s history.
His contributions to the Tuna Club are immeasurable and his commitment to ethical angling and good sportsmanship never waived. As an angler, he earned his qualifying button in 1988 and his Silver Fame Medal in 1990. He earned his Gold Fame Medal in 1994, Tag and Release Pin in 1997, with four buttons total. He was selected Angler of The Year in 2003 and 2004, and held several Tuna Club Records, with two still standing for a 3 thread white seabass and a 3 thread albacore.
In 2008, Packy became one of only four members in club history to secure a Ruby Fame Medal by taking a marlin on 8-pound Dacron.
He won numerous medallions along the way and 15 Largest of the Season Awards. He also loved to help others catch fish, and many members can thank him for their club records and qualifying fish. He truly enjoyed the Invitational Masters Tournament in Cancun, which he once chaired and took first place honors.
Packy was the proud recipient of two McCarthy Trophies for his outstanding service to the Tuna Club. These acknowledgments were important to him but did not nearly reflect the true measure of his giving. His behind the scenes generosity is found everywhere, from major clubhouse repairs, the Leaping Tuna Statue and numerous Foundation causes, untold underwriting of special events, Centennial year expenses, awards, tournaments, linen and Dacron line inventories, dinners, employees, even the History of the Tuna Club Book and so much more – the list is endless. His excellent relations with the City of Avalon and its residents made us feel more a part of the community. Packy served as President of the Tuna Club in 2002 and was President of the Tuna Club Foundation at his passing.
When W. J. Landers penned our original Tuna Club constitution in 1898, he expressed “The object of this club is the protection of the game fishes of California and to encourage and foster the catching of all game-fishes.” It is clear today that while many have contributed to this effort, no member in our 117-year history has been more successful in carrying out our cause for conservation than Packy Offield. As founder and Chairman of the Catalina Sea Bass Fund, the first successful effort of its type dedicated to the restoration of seabass and several other fisheries in California, he brought scientists and stakeholders together to create a plan to replenish their dwindling stocks. His support and direction in that regard represented a working model of marine conservation in our own Southern California.
Packy accelerated his efforts in this cause through The Offield Foundation, which he also served as Chairman. In addition to the Foundation’s work on behalf of the White Sea Bass and numerous local fisheries in Southern California, he funded the major state of the art scientific research worldwide. If no information to help their cause was available, he researched and developed it, employing leading scientists and experts, even endowing a Paxson Offield professorship in Fisheries Ecology at USC in 2003. His vision attracted many volunteers who became dedicated to his dream. Hubbs Sea World in San Diego recently released the two – millionth white seabass into the ocean. This unparalleled success in understanding and improving stock assessments literally changed how science gains the understanding of managing our marine habitat and is being continued by his able sons Chase and Calen. As a side note, his conservation efforts extended into fresh water rivers and lakes as well. Packy enjoyed fly-fishing and was deeply involved in the Little Traverse Conservancy with his brother James.
Organizing the Tuna Club White Seabass Tournament was a particularly important accomplishment for Packy. In addition to being great fun for all who participate, it also signified the culmination of his long planned dream that stocks might increase to the point a tournament could even take place. It also represented a very special gift to his many angling friends, “Packy style”.
Packy advanced marine conservation efforts through the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies founded by Philip K. Wrigley in 1965. Perched on 14-acres adjacent to Big Fisherman’s Cove, it is a well-appointed and highly praised academic research center dedicated to environmental science. Packy introduced the Institute’s Fisheries Management Program in 2000.
The Paxson Offield Center for Billfish Studies opened in 2000 with cutting- edge technology. His quest to understand more about the mysterious behavior of the world’s billfish populations inspired his working with anglers and scientists to accumulate more sound scientific research on marlin behavior. By placing archival tags in the fish, information was transmitted to satellites when they surfaced, then downloaded for scientific analysis. There was an immediate source of new information about their habits and migrations due to his work. The Center coordinates the most innovative data collection program in existence. Placing hundreds of satellite tags in 16 locations around the world and counting is a historic accomplishment. Even the trial and error work involved in developing reliable satellite tags was a major scientific achievement.
Some of Packy’s other angling and conservation acknowledgements include the Rybovich Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 for his long- standing contributions to the Billfish Foundation, of which he also served as a Past Chairman. The Billfish Foundation acknowledged that his efforts brought attention to the billfishes decline before the International Treaty Management Organizations for the first time. Paxson’s induction into the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame was most befitting as a reflection of what he has done for the sport of angling in general. As Chairman of the organization, he has provided excellent leadership during changing times and helped focus and direct us into the new century. He was the driving force behind the Great Marlin Race, encouraging anglers to participate in placing tags and advancing research on his beloved billfish.
To know Paxson Offield was to have your life blessed with an unconditional friendship. He was truly a rare man who gave so much of himself to so many. He loved the world with such a passion and dedicated his life to leaving it better for all of us.
Ave atque vale. Nos videbimus in universis.
Hail and Farewell. We will see you in all we do.
Tuna Club Historian
Services at Catalina Island will be announced during the summer.
In Lieu of flowers the family encourages memorial donations be made to the Little Traverse Conservancy.
Arrangements were made through Schiller Funeral Home. Online messages of condolence and shared memories may be made at stonefuneralhomeinc.com
Written by Michael Farrior