Avery was a sixth generation Californian whose family ties are deeply rooted in Los Angeles and Orange counties’ histories
By Brian Park
Alice O’Neill Avery, matriarch of the Rancho Mission Viejo family and a sixth generation Californian, died on Tuesday, July 22 at her home in Brentwood. She was 97.
Avery died of natural causes, said her son Tony Moiso, president and CEO of Rancho Mission Viejo.
Avery was born in Los Angeles to Richard O’Neill Jr. and Marguerite “Daisy” Moore. Her grandfather, Richard O’Neill Sr., was a cattle man who partnered with fellow Irish immigrant James Flood in 1882 to own and operate one of California’s largest ranches, the 230,000-acre Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores.
Avery spent much of her childhood at the ranch. In 1939, her father took control of the northern portion of the land in south Orange County, while the Floods controlled parcels in San Diego. Three years later, the U.S. Navy took possession of the San Diego parcels to establish Camp Pendleton.
Avery also owned strong historic ties to Los Angeles County.
Her great-great grandfather, Joe Loreto Sepulveda, was the second alcalde, or mayor under Spanish rule, of Los Angeles. She was also a member of the First Century Families, descendants of the region between 1781 and 1881. Last November, when the families gathered in Los Angeles for their annual luncheon, Avery was an honored guest as the last living person to have attended the very first party in 1938.
She took great pride in her California heritage and loved state history, Moiso said.
“She loved the fact that we still had cattle and brandings. She relished the rodeo,” said Moiso, who recalled their trips to Memorial Coliseum to watch the annual Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Rodeo.
“In 1948, she took me to San Francisco for the first time,” Moiso said. “Driving up the Santa Ynez Valley, she pointed out the oak trees and cattle and said, ‘This is what it’s all about.’”
Avery graduated from Marymount High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Bel Air, and at the time of her passing, she was the school’s oldest living graduate. She went on to attend Immaculate Heart College, a private Catholic college that closed in 1981.
Moiso said his mother was a devout Catholic whose dedication to her faith “was an inspiration for me.”
Rev. Msgr. Arthur Holquin, former pastor and rector at Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, met Avery later in her life.
“But it was very clear she was a woman of interior strength,” Holquin said. “She was a gracious woman. We’re talking about an individual who in many respects held so much of the history of Orange County. Her ancestors were the great pioneers of this portion of our country. We only have to look around to realize we’ve witnessed the passing of history here in the person of Alice Avery O’Neill.”
Avery was also committed to several charitable causes. In addition to contributing to Marymount School, she was an active supporter of Maryvale, a Catholic-run orphanage in Los Angeles and several local efforts, including the San Juan Capistrano and Camp Pendleton historical societies and the Mission Preservation Foundation.
“She used to take us to the back of the church and show us the poor box,” Moiso said. “She would tell me we were pretty darn blessed, we’ve got to help the ones less fortunate than we are.”
Avery is survived by her three sons, Anthony “Tony” Richard Moiso, James Jerome Moiso and Douglas Waldo Avery; eight grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
A funeral Mass is planned at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Brentwood in September.
In lieu of flowers, Avery’s family encourages contributions be made to St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, 11967 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, or The Heart of Jesus Retreat Center, 2927 South Greenville, Santa Ana.