Jay Hyde got to know Balboa Park’s every corner. He ran through it every day, slowing down to say hello to other runners, or to greet someone he’d never met, or just to reflect.
He loved that park so much that when the San Diego Zoo announced plans to expand in the late 1990s, he was horrified that it wanted to widen its parking lot and demolish the adjacent War Memorial Building that honored veterans.
So he organized a group of uptown residents and co-founded Preserve Our Parks to advocate on the park’s behalf. He rallied with activists, veterans, and park lovers, invoking a law called the Quimby Act, which protects open space from development. He liked to refer to it as Quality in My Back Yard, a play on NIMBY, which refers to people who oppose development in their neighborhoods, or Not In My Back Yard.
The zoo ultimately won city approval for many of its yet-unrealized expansion plans. But it scrapped the plan to demolish the War Memorial Building. It was a proud accomplishment for Hyde, who had served in the Navy.
Jay Hyde died on Jan. 21, a few months after learning he had cancer. He was 78, and had continued taking walks through the park until shortly before his death. Up until his diagnosis, he continued advocating for Balboa Park and for the broader uptown community where he’d lived since 1969.
He’d served on uptown’s planning board for 12 years, and most recently had been helping to update uptown’s community plan, trying to ensure that building height restrictions remained in place to prevent downtown-style high rises. He wanted to keep the up out of uptown.
But Hyde’s quiet legacy lives on, especially if you walk along many of the streets in Mission Hills, where a young Jay Hyde planted dozens of liquid amber trees along the public sidewalks and in people’s yards not long after he moved to San Diego, his adoptive home.
Jay Hyde was born in Bloomington, Indiana on March 20, 1932, the oldest of Rose and Lester Hyde’s three children. His father owned a stone cutting business, and when Jay was a boy, the two would sit by the railroad tracks and watch the freight trains. As one went by Jay would add up the numbers painted on the side of each of its cars, declaring the sum total once the caboose had passed.
He joined the Navy in 1950 and came to San Diego for training. He liked it so much he resolved to come back. He did, in 1969, but first returned to Indiana, where he earned degrees in math and physics at Saint Joseph’s College.
In San Diego, he plied his skills as a people person to help the city recover from the economic slump it experienced when the aerospace industry started packing up. He worked with former Mayor Pete Wilson, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., and local chambers of commerce to attract industry from Japan and to promote business partnerships in Tijuana.
He published trade investment magazines to promote the opportunities for business in San Diego to woo companies like Kyocera, Sony, and Sanyo, his son, Paul Hyde, said.
The name of one of those Japanese-language magazines, his son said, translated roughly into that quintessential of San Diego catchphrases: Live, Work, Play.
He embodied that mantra, his son said, and enjoyed getting into just the slightest of mischief with his two children.
On trips to Warner Hot Springs at the base of Palomar Mountain, he and his children would play a trick on the other tourists. Hyde could hold his breath for a long time because he’d worked as a lifeguard in Indiana. So Paul and his sister, Amy, would sit on the edge of the swimming pool while their dad took a deep breath then expelled it, sinking to the bottom, where he would stay for a little too long. When people nearby went over thinking he needed help, he’d pop up, to his children’s laughter.
When the San Diego River flooded, he took Paul to Mission Valley, tied a rope to an inflatable boat, then ran along the banks as his son rode the current.
His wife, Julianne Peters Hyde, said his true passion was the uptown community, and getting to know all the people who wanted to improve it like he did.
Hyde was drawn to serve from the time he moved to Mission Hills. He was president of the board for the condominium complex where he lived, and in his free time planted trees throughout the neighborhood and in the canyon behind his building, to prevent erosion. The man who ran through Mission Hills without a shirt on — that was Jay Hyde.
When his term as condo president ended, he was replaced by Julianne Peters, another of the building’s residents. The two became friends, at first because she wanted to start running and knew he was a runner. They ran together down First Avenue and east through Balboa Park. Their running partnership blossomed into a romantic one, and they married in 1987.
“Having run all through Balboa Park, he had taken it all in,” his wife said. “He just thought it was a beautiful place and that it should be protected.”
In 1998, he was elected to uptown’s planning board, where he served for 12 years. Its rules only allowed members to serve two terms, unless they could secure two-thirds of the members’ vote to win a third. Hyde did.
Jay Hyde called his son almost every day, invariably during his walks and runs through Balboa Park. His son would join him on those walks sometimes, and remembered his father’s charming audacity. Once, he spotted three elderly women from afar, wearing brightly colored dresses he thought were beautiful.
He walked up to them and told them he thought so. They were enchanted.
As he got older, then sick, he walked more, ran a little less — but always did when he could, up until a few weeks before he died.
“I walk when I’m on the sidewalk,” he would tell his son, “but when I hit the grass I start to run.”
Hyde’s neighbors are going to plant a tree in Balboa Park in his honor.