Patience Abbe, bestselling child author, Dead at 87

Patience Abbe, died on, March 17, 2012, at the age of 87 in Redding, California of natural causes. Born on July 22, 1924 in Paris, France, she and her two brothers became best selling authors in 1936 when their non-fiction book, “Around the World in Eleven Years,” became a runaway hit, published in seven languages, including Braille.

Here’s a short film about her life that was shown at a regional TED talk last month, TEDx Redding.

Patience Abbe Bio

Born on July 22, 1924 in Paris, France, Patience Abbe became a bestselling author, along with her two younger brothers, Richard and John Abbe, in 1936, when she was 11 years old. Their first book “Around the World in Eleven Years,” was an account of their European childhood, and their move to America when Patience was 10.

Samuel Kaufman, of the Brooklyn Times-Union noted at the time, “Patience tells most of the story with an indiscriminate garrulity which would cause almost any parents but hers to send her to bed without her supper.” Critic Herschel Brickell of the New York Post wrote, “The Abbes have not only traveled geographically, but up and down the financial scale, and their children have had a chance at seeing life in various of its aspects that is denied to most people. Patience’s comments are quite frank on all subjects, family secrets and all; they are fresh and naïve and consistently delightful. The book is refreshingly different from the kind of stuff we have to read day after day, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Book critic Joseph Henry Jackson of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “When Clemenceau got to know the Abbes—father, mother, Patience, Richard and John—he threw up his hands and said, ‘What a family!’ ”

Her parents were American ex-patriots photographer James Abbe, and former Ziegfield showgirl Polly Shorrock. As a girl Patience danced atop Fred Astaire’s shoes during a photo shoot in Paris, thought Charlie Chaplin was “kind of grumpy,” played tag football with the stars of “Our Gang” at Hal Roach Studios, attended Shirley Temple’s birthday party, was a guest of Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House, and “lived in a castle,” as guests of William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon.

The trio published two more books, “Of All Places,” documenting their adventures in Hollywood, and “No Place Like Home,” about an ill-timed trip to pre-war Europe, and their ultimate return to the Colorado Ranch where the family settled on The Abbe Ranch in Larkspur, now a Douglas County historic site. About their years as celebrity authors, Patience said recently, “We were not Hollywood children: we would rather have been dumped in a corral of horses than a roomful of actors.”

After high school, Patience went to work as an assistant to her father, Photographer James Abbe, who was then a radio commentator in Portland, Oregon. She covered the opening sessions of the United Nations in 1945, worked for a San Francisco newspaper, and later for an ad agency.

In her upcoming memoir, “I, Patience,” she writes this about working for ABC radio during the founding of the United Nations: “The atmosphere was electric, never to be matched in my lifetime—the combination of hope, relief, celebration and noble purpose. If you could only be a reporter in one place, at one time, this was it. There was no duplicating it: the cream of the crop. The only one missing was the most pre-eminent war correspondent of them all, my friend Ernie Pyle, who had died just months before, in April 1945, on assignment in Japan.”

During her marriage to writer Francois Leydet, she served as his typist and personal editor for two books written for the Sierra Club, “Time and the River Flowing,” about the Grand Canyon, and “The Last Redwoods.” They were dedicated conservationists, working to preserve critical open space in Marin County. She later served for many years as a church secretary at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ross, California, and assisted immigrant populations at Canal Ministry in Corte Madera. She was a personal assistant to Jungian analysts and authors Jo and Jane Wheelwright, became a sculptor, and wrote another memoir.

After 50 years in Marin County, she moved to Redding, California in 2010 to live with niece Jenny Abbe Moyer, and her family, to collaborate on her book. In February, Patience participated in a TED Talks presentation at TEDxRedding, which featured a short film about her life based on her memoir, to be published in the coming year.  She was preceded in death by her brother Richard Abbe, and her grandson Christophe Rogé, and is survived by two daughters, Catherine Abbe Geissler and husband Peter Geissler of Friday Harbor, Washington, and Shelley Rogé and husband Dr. Claude Rogé, of Scotts Valley, California; brother John Abbe and his wife Carol of Sacramento; sisters Tilly Abbe and Linda Lennihan of San Francisco; and numerous nieces and nephews. Donations are appreciated to organizations that train animals for comfort care, or that benefit the environment.

-from press release

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-from press release
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    Wow! I had no idea such an incredible woman has been living here for 2 years. I truly enjoyed this article and the video. This is a great human story of a fascinating life, documented by wonderful photos thanks to her photographer father. I loved hearing Patience's story in her own voice. What a passionate and curious woman with a terrific sense of humor. She said, "Everyone should leave a trail of their being." What an inspiration to hear her speak. I can only imagine what it would have been like to know her. Blessings to her family.

  2. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Oh my gosh, what a remarkable life Ms. Abbbe and her brothers had. Imagine playing football with Buckwheat and Spanky and staying at "the ranch" at San Simion with William Randolf Hearst.

    I knew Judge Richard Abbe, but until now didn't know of his famous sister. What a great life well served.

  3. Avatar leslie amith says:

    Just had the pleasure of meeting this fine lady. Had a great conversation with her about her life. Can't wait to read the book on her life. Rest in Peace Miss Abbe

  4. Avatar lee riggs says:

    What an interesting person living here in Redding of all places.

    By the way I just bought the book on Amazon. Great fun to read

  5. Avatar Canda says:

    Lee, I tried finding "Around the World in 11 Years" on Amazon, and it didn't come up. I wonder what I'm doing wrong? Any tips? Thanks!

  6. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Yes, icons of Ms Abbe's nature are far and few between…a huge round of applause goes out to Jenny and family for caring for their loving Patience.

  7. Avatar Matt Briner says:

    I hadn't had the pleasure of learning about Patience Abbe's life until the TEDxRedding event. What a an experience that short film was. Such a remarkable woman.

  8. Avatar Kevin Lewis says:

    I loved these books when I read them 50 years ago. I am saddened by the knowledge that I could have contacted her and told her how much her book meant to me.

  9. Avatar lee riggs says:

    @Canda just put her name in search. By the way her father was a very famous photographer.

  10. Avatar Canda says:

    Thanks, Lee. Ordered the book on Amazon, and I'm thoroughly enjoying reading Around the World in Eleven Years. What a fun book!