Sybil Allbright, 84; mentor in ham radio community Sybil, W6GIC
By Jack Williams
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
March 3, 2005

In San Diego's ham radio circles, Sybil Allbright W6GIC was considered the grande dame of dedicated hobby-ists – a mentor, an organizer and an advocate of communications for the public good. "She was the glue who held us together," said Chuck Wood, a fellow enthusiast. "She's the one people in our hobby would go to for advice." By 1970, when she settled in San Diego, Mrs. Allbright had 22 years of experience as a licensed ham radio operator in a male-dominated field. Setting up a radio shop in their Serra Mesa home, she and husband, London Allbright, provided visitors who shared their passion access to the latest equipment. To encourage participants, she founded the San Diego Amateur Radio Council and edited its newsletter, Squelch Tales. To demonstrate the value of her hobby as a public service, she volunteered for animal rescue efforts and other emergencies. "We all looked up to Sybil as an example," Wood said. Mrs. Allbright, who had suffered a series of strokes, died in her sleep Feb. 7 at her home. She was 84.

During the 1970s, Mrs. Allbright applied much of the technological savvy she acquired in amateur radio to the emerging field of personal computing. She bought her first home computer in 1976 and, for several years, edited Personal Systems, a newsletter for the San Diego Computer Society. "She must have had every software program known to man from Day Onein her home," Wood said. After launching the San Diego Amateur Radio Council, known as SANDARC, Mrs. Allbright organized a series of conventions to bring together members of the American Radio Relay League. "We had forums on amateur radio topics, including emergency preparedness," said Tuck Miller, former vice director of the ARRL's Southwestern Division. "Many people think it's just a hobby, but at the same time we make ourselves available for public service activities. "Even if Sybil couldn't be actively involved, she owned repeaters on various mountain tops, including one in Otay, that enabled radio operators to transmit signals in emergencies."

Mrs. Allbright continued her involvement in amateur radio after her husband's death in 1992. She was a longtime member of the San Diego Repeater Association and was active in the El Cajon and Palomar radio clubs and the Two Meter Area Spectrum Management Association, which coordinates repeater frequencies. Over the years, she saw memberships in such organizations drop as a new generation of cell-phone-toting, e-mail-savvy youths opted for quicker and simpler communications alternatives. "The younger folks want instant gratification," Miller said. "Radio is more like fishing. You throw out a call sign and don't know what you're going to catch – maybe it will be somebody in Russia, Australia or whatever. To me, that's the fun of it." Mrs. Allbright was born Sybil VonRosenburg in Lubbock, Texas.

Her first husband was killed at Guadalcanal during World War II when she was carrying her first child. A friend introduced her to an overseas pen pal, London Allbright, in the Army Air Forces. They corresponded for 11 months and exchanged photographs. They met face to face for the first time after the war and married in December 1946 in Los Angeles. As the future Air Force major's wife, Mrs. Allbright moved 22 times until the couple settled in San Diego upon his retirement.

In 1951, while living in San Francisco, Mrs. Allbright sang with the Berkeley Anns, a group that advanced to the national finals of the Sweet Adelines International competition, said Lisa Storey, a granddaughter Mrs. Allbright helped raise. With the encouragement of her husband, a command pilot and communications officer, Mrs. Allbright was licensed in ham radio in 1948. She pursued her hobby during a 32-year teaching career at the elementary school level that began in 1954 in Alaska. When she moved with her husband to Japan, she earned a superior performance award for teaching military dependents, Storey said.

Mrs. Allbright, a graduate of University of California Los Angeles, taught for 16 years in the San Diego Unified School District. She earned a master's degree in 1982 at San Diego State University and completed all but two classes toward a doctorate of education at the University of Southern California. "Those two classes would have cost $10,000 at USC," Storey said. "She decided that it wasn't worth it because she was so close to retirement." During her teaching career, Mrs. Allbright brought computers and ham radios into her classrooms at Miramar Ranch Elementary in Scripps Ranch, where she taught sixth-graders in a gifted program before retiring in 1986.

She brought her organizational skills to the Serra Mesa Community Council, serving as its secretary. Mrs. Allbright was preceded in death by her daughter, Carol Ann McKinney, in 1996. Survivors include a son, Norman Allbright of San Diego; and two grandchildren. Services were Monday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Donations are suggested to the San Diego Humane Society.

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