Mattole (Walter Charles Sharp III): An Original Soul
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Mattole, born Walter Charles Sharp III on November 14, 1934, in Germantown Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, passed in his sleep on Monday, August 21, 2023, his beloved wife, Jeanne by his side. His soul peacefully left his body in the timber framed cabin, built by two of their sons, on their land in Honeydew, California, overlooking the Mattole River.
Mattole met Jeanne McCord Mattole in 1969, at a party hosted by mutual friends, George Goehring and Dennis J. O’Brien (d 2023). He won her over with his smile, kind demeanor and his story of having just returned from the Woodstock Music Festival, where he had been up close to his idols as he helped run the lights for the show.
He was preceded in death by his father, Lt. Colonel Walter Charles Sharp, Jr (d 1976) and his mother, Catherine McGarvey Sharp (d 2009), and he is survived by his two closest siblings, Georganne Sharp Hughes (Saint Petersburg, FL) and Kevin Sharp (Largo, FL), as well as a much younger half-sister he always wanted to meet, Lisa Sharp Cogbill (Little Rock, AK).
A private family graveside memorial was held on Sunday, September 3rd, 2023, at the Petrolia Table Cemetery, Petrolia, California. He was laid to rest in a rustic and elegantly hand-built coffin made from old Redwood salvaged by a native Yurok friend of the family. Later, family members gathered at the Mattole Valley Sungrown Farm in Honeydew, where stories of his many chapters, his original larger-than-life personality, his complete lack of care for what anyone else thought, his outlandish ideas (many attempted and some accomplished), and his passion for original adventures were shared by his family.
Mattole’s childhood was spent between their home on Long Beach Island, New Jersey and wherever his father was stationed, including the first few years of high school in Caracas, Venezuela. After re-discovering tumors in his brain during his junior year of high school, Mattole returned to Long Beach Island, where he graduated from Barnegat High School in June 1953. Mattole was always smiling and talking, and his yearbook is full of comments from faculty members and fellow classmates, referring to him as “Sharpie” and commenting on his gregarious personality and welcoming manner.
He entered college at Baylor University the following fall and found himself coming truly alive in the theatre department. However, he withdrew and joined the Navy. His Navy stint was cut short when the tumors returned, and he was honorably discharged. Mattole spent the remainder of the nineteen fifties pursuing his acting career and education. He studied at the Cornish School of Fine Arts in Seattle, WA and the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, PA. He finished his studies in NYC, at the Herbert Berghof Studio. During this period he acted in many off-Broadway and regional theatre productions.
He is survived by his three children from his first marriage, and their partners, Geoffrey Sharp (Altadena, CA/Elizabeth), Catherine Sharp Shahan (Monkton, VT/Matt) and Hope Sharp (Montpelier, VT/Joe) and their mother who raised them, Margery Gould Sharp (Shelburne, VT), as well as his six grandchildren through his first marriage, Marshall, Haley, Tom, Audrey, Miles & Juliet and two great-grandchildren, Ezra & Aaron.
The 1960’s were a busy and ambitious time for Mattole, Marge and his young family. Marge purchased a barge for them to build a traveling theatre on; he completed his BA in Theatre Arts from UCLA; became a member of Actors Equity; taught drama and speech at the Peddie School and regularly stage-managed theatre productions in New York City and New England, all with the amazing support of his wife. In 1968 he left his family and spent the summer working with a group in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco called the Diggers and directing plays in Golden Gate Park. Many of the actors were runaway “flower children” who had never acted before. He was eventually divorced from his first wife, Margery.
Mattole is survived by his six children with Jeanne, and their partners, including Donovan Mattole (Center Valley, PA/Emily), Dylan Mattole (Honeydew, CA/Robbin), Rio Mattole (Whitefish, MT/Stephanie), Morningstar Mattole Ohmes (Port Ludlow, WA/Philipp), Meadowlark Mattole Clark (Brush Prairie, WA/Sean), Dayspring Mattole (Arcata, CA/Nate) and their son, Lee Mattole Kofi (McKinleyville, CA/Celeste), who joined the family from Liberia as a young adult, as well as seventeen grandchildren, including Heather, Tristan, Maddox, Meadow, Sawyer, River, Cedar, Anika, Isabel, Sabine, Myah, Claira, Brayden, Ashton, Toby, Dominic and Heavenlee.
After meeting Jeanne, they lived in NYC before moving to Ibiza, Spain, eventually returning to San Francisco in the summer of 1971. After briefly living on a commune in Northern Mendocino County and running a teahouse (Trans Love Airways Teahouse) in Leggett, CA, in 1973, Mattole and Jeanne purchased acreage along the Mattole River in Humboldt County, California where they initially lived in a teepee. Mattole hand-built a cabin on the land and invited many family members and friends over the years to come live on the land with them, including nephew Marc Regan. Without electricity, everything was done by hand and completely off-the-grid, including building, farming cannabis, and caring for dozens of animals over the years, including horses, ponies, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens, a cow and a pet deer, along with loved dogs and cats. While growing his cannabis in the open under the sun and riding his horse around the valley in the nude, his only run in with the law was his constant free ranging of animals across the valley!
The 1970’s was a period of environmental activism and community building for Mattole, including periods of protest where he refused to ride in vehicles that produced carbon monoxide gases, polluting the atmosphere, and a period where he refused to speak as a silent protest. He and Jeanne hosted a number of equinox and solstice gatherings on their land. In 1979, Mattole generated publicity for his 300 mile/three-month trek through Northern California by horseback to speak to Governor Jerry Brown, representing many passionate local environmentalists in seeking Brown’s support in designating over 75,000 acres of coastal land in Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino counties, including The Kings Range, Gilham Butte and Chemise Mountain as National Wilderness Areas, as well as the expansion of the Sinkyone Wilderness Area, together one of the last primitive coastal lands in the contiguous United States. He also carried with him a list of other demands including freedom to legally grow cannabis and a protest against the proposal to open up the coastline of Humboldt to offshore oil drilling. He embraced community organizing and actively participated in a movement to create a public school in their community of Ettersburg, personally riding his horse to every home in the area and presenting the school district and county with a list of every child living in the hills and the signatures of their parents, which contributed to the county approving creation of public school, which originally met in the log cabin on his land before a building was erected.
The 1980’s was a period of spiritual seeking and evangelism for Mattole, after his early 1970’s “Jesus movement” experience, which resulted in the founding of a church on their land and traveling the world “preaching the message of Jesus” (including smuggling Bibles into China; annual trips street-preaching in NYC, etc.) much of it from the back of his horse, Honeydew, or behind a wagon covered in signs. Many residents of Southern Humboldt will remember this period of his life when he was dragging a cross and preaching on the streets in Garberville. Like all endeavors, when Mattole decided to do something he did it in a radical way!
In the 1990’s his extreme activism and externally focused protests and outreaches slowed down as his children grew into adulthood. His last thirty years were spent closer to home, embracing the land he loved, growing organic blueberries, and passing on the legacy of growing cannabis under the natural sun in the same way he did back in 1973. Up until his passing he was still a font of offbeat ideas (e.g. let’s buy a “Chinese Junk” sailboat and circle the globe.) He still ventured out for periodic adventures (e.g. retracing the Applegate Trail by wagon; trips around the world), but he always returned to his home in The Mattole Valley overlooking the Mattole River, his namesake.
A true original, over the course of his almost 89 years he wore many hats (literally – he loved a good hat) and lived many lives, but his deepest love was for his family, including his wife Jeanne, his siblings, his ten children, his twenty-three grandkids and his two great-grandchildren, all who he followed closely, asking whomever he was speaking to about everyone else and all who he would ask to visit constantly!
Mattole was a highly memorable character. The Humboldt region he so loved, and his many friends and family around the globe, have lost an original soul. He will be missed.
In lieu of flowers or plants as condolences, the family requests that donations be made to the Mattole Valley Resources Center, a Nonprofit Community Support Organization meeting critical needs in the Mattole Valley. Additional information can be found at www.mattolevalleyresourcescenter.org or checks can be mailed to MVRC, PO Box 191, Petrolia, CA 95558