Dorothy Stanley – Island Icon

Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Kimberlie Guerrieri

Photo of the Stanley Family in 2000

This article was originally published in the February 2022 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

Navy Wife. Navy Daughter. Community Cultivator.

If you’ve visited the Coronado Historical Association, strolled Artisans Alley, or marveled at the floral arrangements at the Coronado Flower Show, you can thank long-time Coronado resident Dorothy “Dodo” Stanley.  These are just a few of the many organizations she helped start and shape in Coronado.

Dorothy Stanley was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1933 to Navy Capt. Cecil B. Gill, a native of Wisconsin, and Evelyn de la Nux, a native of Hawaii. The third and youngest child, her father gave her the diminutive nickname “Dodo.”

The Navy brought Dorothy’s family to Coronado when she was five years old. Her father Capt. Cecil Gill graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1925 and flight training school in 1929.  He was a member of the stunt team that preceded the Navy’s Blue Angels. He went on to become a highly decorated and career naval officer.

When Dorothy and her family moved into base housing Quarters Q in 1938, things looked quite a bit different in Coronado. The population was less than 7,000 residents, you could only cross the bay by ferry, and she could see Spanish Blight from her front yard.

Dorothy began her education at Coronado Elementary in Ms. Benton’s kindergarten class. What she remembers most about those early years in Coronado was “the freedom we had to wander around and go uptown to the grocery store…everywhere on your bike.” Her fondest childhood memories were Saturday matinees at what is now Lambs Theater. For the cost of a dime, “you got a newsreel, a cartoon, and usually a cowboy western film.”

She loved films with Tyrone Power and Clark Gable, but actors weren’t just on the silver screen. Celebrity sightings were common in Coronado during those years. She once ran into Claudette Colbert walking out of the grocery store, and she had her picture taken with Van Johnson at the Hotel Del. “That would be like running into George Clooney today,” Dorothy likes to point out.

Those Saturday matinees in Coronado started her lifelong passion for movies. Her daughter Claudia says, “not a day goes by when mom doesn’t make a movie reference. Her license plate MOVBUFF says it all.” 

WWII brought air raid sirens and ration cards to Coronado. Dorothy recalls how soap, shoes, and even bananas were hard to come by. Scrap metal drives were held at Coronado High School.  You could feel the threat of war in Coronado.  Buildings on the base were covered in camouflage netting.  San Diego Bay was filled with small dirigibles tied down at various heights to deter enemy planes from attacking.

When WWII ended, her father Capt. Cecil Gill’s deployments took her far away from Coronado. First to snowy Illinois and then to steamy Kwajalein when he was named commanding officer of the naval station and governor of the Marshal Islands. 

Dorothy returned stateside after the Korean War when her father was appointed commanding officer of Naval Air Station Sand Point in Seattle. One afternoon, the social director at the officers’ club rang and asked if she would be willing to go on “yet another blind date.” Seems there was a young lieutenant in town who wanted to go to the college basketball game but didn’t want to go alone. He inquired, “Doesn’t the commanding officer have a daughter?”

The young pilot from Kansas City, Lt. Tom Stanley, was stationed nearby on Whidbey Island. He arrived for their date in a snazzy little Chevy coup. Dorothy was intrigued, “I had never dated a man with his own car.” 

Like most blind dates, Dorothy recalls it started out awkward. To fill the silence as they drove, she started whistling. “I don’t know why, and I don’t know what he thought,” she recalls. He must have been impressed because they went out every weekend after that first date. That was early January. He proposed on April 1st, April Fool’s Day, as Dorothy likes to point out. But Tom was no fool to choose this Navy daughter for a Navy wife.  They married in 1955 and had six children: Claudia, Chris, Jennifer, Tom, Carolyn, and Jim.

In 1961, the Navy brought Dorothy and Tom back to Coronado. They purchased a home on Alameda where she still resides today. The world had changed since she left, but much in Coronado was the same.  Even Dorothy’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Benton, was still at Coronado Elementary. Two of the Stanley children found themselves in her class. 

Tom had several long deployments during the Vietnam War. Dorothy’s oldest daughter Claudia recalls her mother carrying the load of six children and having to deal with everything alone, “Seems like the car or washing machine always seemed to break the week dad left.” 

Dorothy kept Tom informed of everything going on in beautifully handwritten letters, which she numbered in case he received them out of sequence. An active member of the Navy Wives Club for many years, she spent countless hours supporting other military wives and families on the island. 

Tom’s 32 year-service saw him advance from seaman to naval aviator with squadron and ship commands and assignments on every continent save South America. But when it was time for retirement, there was only one choice in the world—Coronado. During those retirement years, when Dorothy and Tom weren’t volunteering for some community group, they enjoyed traveling with their Coronado friends to France, England, and Italy. Tom passed away in Coronado in 2002.

Dorothy has been an integral part of many clubs and civic organizations in town for decades.  She was an early board member of the Coronado Historical Association, where she worked to help preserve Coronado’s past. Along with her husband she was a member of the Coronado Yacht club.  A member of the Bridge and Bay Garden Club,  Dorothy has won the Coronado Flower Show miniature floral design section so many times she had to stop entering. For years she taught floral arranging classes and helped organize and run the Artisian’s Alley craft fair.

And if you’ve enjoyed seeing the marching flamingos in the annual 4th of July parade, you can thank Dorothy for that too. When the Bridge and Bay Garden Club members, affectionately known as the “flamingos,” grew tired of coming up with a new float every year, Dorothy and her daughter created the elaborate flamingo costumes we enjoy seeing march down Orange Avenue.  With her marching days behind her, she’ll be the flamingo riding in a car this year. Look for Dorothy “Dodo” Stanley in this year’s parade and wave hello! 

This article was originally published in the February 2022 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

More Photos of Dorothy Stanley:

Gill/Stanley Family Reunion

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