Remembering Peggy Love, mother of the ’60s who broke race barriers while struggling with family secrets

Peggy Love opened one of the first unsegregated coffee houses in downtown Atlanta, and turned her Berkeley home on Elmwood Avenue into an oasis of poetry readings, sunbathing, pot smoking, political meetings, and “hookups” of all sorts.

Peggy Mitchell Love. Submitted photo

Peggy Mitchell Love, Oct. 26, 1924 – July 15, 2021

It was a completely different world when Peggy Mitchell was born in 1924, especially in Mormon country, Garfield, Utah. Not only was it a huge embarrassment to have a baby born out of wedlock, but it was also a sin. So much so that her mother hid out through the better part of her pregnancy, birthing Peggy in secret at home while her half-brother and sister played loud instruments so as to cover any birthing noises. Seeking the perfect coverup, her grandparents put her in a suitcase and left the house waving to neighbors and saying they were going to adopt a baby. 

And so it was that Peggy was raised, and misled, believing her grandparents were her mother and father. At the age of 13, Leonora Sandall, who Peggy thought was her older sister, told her the truth: She was Peggy’s real mother. By no means did this then make life rosy. For one thing Peggy was told to keep it a secret. A rather large lie for a child to be in charge of keeping! As early as age 2 or 3 she recalled sensing the lies and coverups, and she always wondered who she really was and felt as if she didn’t belong. In spite of, or perhaps because of, a childhood so void of nurturing and guidance, she was a natural born entertainer. She was funny, she danced, tap danced, and sang, winning high school and college acting awards in numerous performances.

In 1945, at the age of 21, Peggy met the love of her life, Walter Douglas Love. They were married in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, just two months after meeting. Walter was still in the Army so Peggy continued to dance and act until his discharge, at which time they moved to Chicago where Walter studied philosophy and received his first doctorate. While living in Chicago, Peggy gave birth on July 24, 1949, to her first son, Jonathan Davis Love, thus beginning her lifetime passion and unswerving dedication to being the best mother she could possibly be. Peggy approached parenthood with fierce love, tenacity, creativity and commitment, all qualities that she herself had been denied. 

As much satisfaction as being a mother brought her, she still had much to endure. In those days not only was it totally unacceptable to be a “bastard” child, it was also an enormous taboo to be gay, which, it turned out, Walter was, giving rise to the next big secret for Peggy to keep and navigate. Especially as Walter became a well respected, tenured professor. 

Just 15 months after Jon was born, on Oct. 30, 1950, she gave birth to her middle child and only daughter, Margaret Love. Douglas Wilding Love came along three years after that on June 25, 1953. By this time they had moved their family to Berkeley, where Walter received his second doctorate in history. Life was good in Berkeley for Peggy. Just enough quirky, talented people, probably with secrets of their own to keep. She and Walter had lots of friends and their house was always the place to gather. They hosted many parties with dancing, fun costumes and plenty of cheap red wine that came in gallon jugs. Then, as fate would have it, the best teaching job Walter could get was at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where they moved in the summer of 1955.

The atmosphere of Atlanta in the 1950s did not agree with Peggy as Berkeley had, and she began to suffer. Probably all that secret-keeping began to catch up with both Peggy and Walter and they took turns having “nervous breakdowns.” Remarkably resilient as she was however, Peggy continued to dance and perform. With business partners, she also managed to open one of the first ever unsegregated coffee houses in downtown Atlanta. They called it the Cocoa Tree. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the public health department to close it down because Peggy and her partners’ refused to create separate Black and White restrooms. 

In November of 1964, Walter’s coverup of his sexuality caught up with him and he was arrested in an anti-homosexual sting, resulting in his being banned and fired from Emory as soon as the news broke. Being the fierce, protective mother that Peggy was, she gathered up the children, packed the bags, and hopped on the train with only a day’s notice. Before the story of Walter’s arrest went public, they were on their way back to her beloved Berkeley. In March 1967, Peggy proved her resilience once more as she weathered through the devastating tragedy of Walter’s death in a car accident in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In spite of it all, she managed to single-parent three unruly, hippie teenagers, fast on their way to becoming progressive children of Berkeley in the ’60s! Even more than ever before, Peggy’s house became the safe haven; a totally accepting place for unique Berkeleyans and many a wayward teenager struggling with their own unaccepting parents. 

And so it came to be that for the next 35 years, her home at 2726 Elmwood Ave. was the place to be! Backyard poetry readings, sunbathing, birthing grandchildren, potlucks, pot smoking, political meetings, and “hookups” of all sorts. Peggy gracefully embraced not only these turbulent times in Berkeley but anything and everything that her children were drawn to, experimented with, and excelled at. Seen through her unconditional loving eyes, the children and their friends could do no wrong.

One more chapter in her quest for love and acceptance … from 1971 to 1983 Peggy was married to an old-time war buddy of Walter’s and college friend of hers, Teo Tusler. This continued the rowdy days of Elmwood with backyard wisteria parties, elaborate roast beef dinners, dance parties, infamous poker games, tons of babysitting grandchildren and best of all Peggy’s original margaritas. Let’s not leave out what an exceptional cook Peggy was! Teo also brought photography into Peggy’s life, which she excelled at. Thanks to her mastery of this medium, there are many beautiful irreplaceable portraits found on the walls and filling the memory books of family, extended family and friends. 

During these years Peggy was also brought back to one of her oldest passions, the theater. She was a founding member and prize-winning fundraiser of The BackStagers, the volunteer group that supported The Berkeley Repertory Theater.

In 2002, she sold her beloved house on Elmwood and began living on her own for the first time. She moved to 72 Tamalpais Road with Mary Kent, co-grandmother, who already lived in the adjacent house. After Mary’s death, grandchildren Hannah and Marlowe became Peggy’s up-the-steps neighbors until the final months of her life, when she moved nearby to be in the comfort and care of Margaret and Dave, her daughter and son in-law. 

On July 15, 2021, Peggy died of congestive heart failure. It was a peaceful and graceful death. During her last days, she was surrounded continuously by her immediate and extended loving family, before taking her last sweet breath. Peggy’s enormous acceptance and joy of family continues to permeate all of her children’s families and their extended families, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We will miss her forever.

Peggy is survived by her three children and their spouses: Jonathan Davis Love & Satya Love; Margaret Love & Dave Kent; and Douglas Wilding Love & Coral Love. Plus eight grandchildren & their partners: Ellen Love & Ben Miller; Valerie Love & James D’Albora; Hannah Love & Scott Crocker; Marlowe Kent; Rebecca Kent & Sean Jerd; Afton Love; Michelle Love; and Tessa Love. And another nine great grandchildren: Eli Hallowell; Matilda Hallowell; Tolman Jerd; Frances Jerd; Emmet Jerd; Camille Love; Juniper D’Albora-Love; Cedar D’Albora-Love; and Silvia Miller-Love.

As Peggy would have wished, we welcome everyone whose life she touched to RSVP to attend a memorial celebration from 3-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Brazilian Room in Tilden Regional Park.