Caption: Morro Bay has been graced with amazing people who move here then share their talents and resources with their adopted city. I’m not sure why Bertha Tyler “adopted me,” but I am forever grateful she chose me to play a small part in her short-lived, but inspiring author-life. At 92, she published her only book, “Living Ashore with Human Parents.” Her story includes 125-1960s photos of the early days when she and the love of her life, Dean Tyler, rescued the Morro Bay Aquarium and marine mammals that needed them.
They operated a rehabilitation center seventeen years before the concept was considered by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protections Act of 1972. Always a favorite souvenir shop, it was closed in 2018. Annually 200,000 visitors from all over the world were entertained up close and personal by the barks and antics of the mammals rehabbing – some ultimately becoming permanent residents.
When the original owner threatened to close it, Dean offered to make it work. An already savvy restaurant owner in Morro Bay when they met, Bertha said, “Why would you buy something that isn’t making money?”
His passion for the Morro Bay tourist attraction and sea life won her approval. They sold the successful eatery Chat ‘N Chew and invested all into the Embarcadero facility. Local children attended birthday parties for the otter, Birdie, and Bertha and Dean would share insights and barks by their “fostered children” at the elementary school and senior centers.
We lost Dean in 1915, then Bertha in 2019, but copies of the book are still for sale at Morro Bay Coastal Treasures & Gifts at 601 Embarcadero. The shop is owned by John (Bertha’s grandson) and Stacy Alcorn.
We launched her book at Coalesce Book Store. Bertha wrote it; I became her promoter. We were told it was the largest audience and highest sales for any new author book signing at Coalesce. She was too nervous to talk. I suggested we do it together. I would interview her so all she had to do was answer questions. She agreed, but I only had to ask her one question before she mesmerized the room with her stories about the rescued marine mammals — otters, sea lions and seals — the so-called first children Dean would rescue, and together they would feed, find veterinary care, and even take home to bathe and stay-overs in their home.
Bertha and I went on “book tour” together. We traveled as far as Cambria’s Book and Author’s Fair. She presented to Quota, Rotary, Lion’s Club and historical society members. She talked from her heart. People loved her charm, her smiles and her independent style. One Cambrian said Bertha was the first speaker to make him laugh and cry at the same time.
She always began by saying, “I wanted to do something for my Dean.”
In fact, that’s how she invited me into her world. After presenting to Quota Club about the Morro Bay Maritime Museum’s (MBMM) fund development campaign, Bertha came up and said, “I want to do something for my Dean.” She invited me to her home. I arrived thinking I was picking up a check for her to become a MBMM charter member, but she wanted to talk about the book she wanted to publish for Dean. Had I wrongly interpreted the purpose of our meeting? Was she was going to ask me to help her write her book? She showed me hundreds of pictures on her dining room table. I sweated how I could turn down Bertha Tyler, a 2006 Morro Bay Living Treasure!
But Bertha didn’t ask me to help her write her book. It was written and the photos already selected. She wanted my opinion about whether anyone would read her book. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “Morro Bay needs a history of the Morro Bay Aquarium’s early days.”
She asked if I might work with her and Bill Charlesworth, Central Coast Books, to proof the galleys he would prepare at her direction. I was overwhelmed by the honor. Instead of her asking me to help her write her book, I ended up asking her if I could write an introduction, coordinate the back cover supporter blurbs, and help promote sales. She had me all the way.
Want to read a true-life love story to your children that will make you laugh and cry at the same time? Dean taught Bertha to love their rescues. She wrote, “They loved me even when I had to use a feeding tube, they would trust me.”
And, by the way, before I left her home that day, Bertha had also already written out a bigger check than I was asking for to become a more than generous charter member of MBMM— all for her Dean.