Valma Irene Hardy
Class of 1909

©Published January 12, 1994

Valma Irene Hardy

Valma Irene King, a spunky Oakland pioneer and the oldest person to survive the devastating 1991 East Bay hills fire, has died at the age of 103.

Known for her quick wit and tales of everything from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to her father's shootout with outlaw Billy the Kid, Mrs. King lost a quick battle with pneumonia Saturday morning at Summit Medical Center.

''We'll all miss her wonderful sense of humor and her many wonderful stories,'' said Dave Carlson, who was a neighbor of Mrs. King when the hills fire broke out and who whisked her and her sister, Iola Imhof, to safety moments before flames engulfed their house. ''She was one of a kind.''

Mrs. King and Imhof, who is now 97, had lived together in their Alvarado Road bungalow for 30 years before the fire, and when they lost their home they also lost a treasure trove of Americana handed down through their family. Among the items burned were a tintype of their uncle serving as a midshipman on the Union ironclad Monitor in the Civil War, and the powder horn their great-great- great grandfather used at the American Revolution battle at Lexington.

Mrs. King's father, William Hardy, is believed to have been the first American born in Oakland, and her grandfather, Lowell Hardy, was one of the first settlers there, having purchased 160 acres of land in the early-1800s Peralta land grant from Spain. The 1991 fire also burned clippings and family records that recounted their father's shootout in Texas with Billy the Kid and their grandfather's gunbattle in 1854 with Oakland's first mayor, Horace Carpentier.

Mrs. King and her sister, both remarkably self-sufficient, escaped the hills fire with only the clothes on their backs. Their historical heritage and upbeat attitude after the disaster drew national media attention. ''Ah, well -- gone with the wind,'' Mrs. King was quoted as saying with a grin right after the blaze.

The sisters had lived together in the Piedmont house of a friend since the fire.

Mrs. King was born in 1890 in the tiny Mojave Desert town of Calico, and the family moved to Oakland in 1898. She attended Franklin Elementary and Oakland High schools and married Ben Maddox in 1912. After he died she married Dade King, who died in 1965.

The family lived in East Oakland during the 1906 earthquake, and in recent years Mrs. King described how the quake-caused blaze in San Francisco ''burned so hot you could pick up a pin at midnight by the light of the fire even over here.''

Mrs. King is survived by her sister; her daughter, Valma Maddox Evans of Manhattan Beach; five grandchildren and eight great- grandchildren.

She will be cremated by the Neptune Society. No service is planned.