Barbara Knight, who was Florida’s First Lady as the wife of Gov. Fuller Warren (1949-1953), and later the wife of newspaper magnate James L. Knight, died of complications from a stroke on May 26 at her home in Los Angeles, the city of her birth.
She was 86, and lived in L.A.’s posh Holmby Hills section.
She was born Barbara Jean Manning, on Aug. 16, 1925, an only child whose father died when she was 4. She attended public high school, and served with the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.
She was working in a law office when she met Warren, 20 years her senior and twice divorced, at a party in Los Angeles in 1948.
It was love at first sight, she told a Miami Herald freelance reporter just before becoming his third wife in a ceremony at a Westwood, Calif., Methodist church on June 26, 1949.
The (male) reporter described “B.J.’’ as an excellent horsewoman who was “strictly feminine — a quiet, cultured soft-spoken Miss (sic) who knows how to balance a tea cup on one of her shapely knees.’’
Another story reported that as First Lady, she would “become mistress of five Negro servants, a block of grounds, gardens and greenhouses — and a 16-room house that will put her home management and decorative talents to a test.’’
Smitten with her youth and good looks, newspapers followed her every move, from a duck-hunting adventure to the “spunky angler’s’’ epic battle with a 28-pound wahoo, to her “economical’’ shopping habits, her thyroid surgery, and the 1952 reckless-driving citation she was given after running her Cadillac into a light pole at what police called “excessive speeds.’’
The couple lived with Warren’s unmarried sister in the old governor’s mansion, which Warren reportedly call the “‘state shack.’’
The couple divorced in 1954 and she returned to California.
In 1962, she married William Richardson, CEO of B.F. Goodrich. He died 10 days after the wedding.
In 1966, she married John Richardson — no relation to her second husband — who became president of Hughes Aircraft. They were happily married for about 25 years, long-time friend Gretchen Smith said.
She said she’d never marry again after Richardson’s death, but later became the second Mrs. James L. Knight. (The first died in 1985).
Barbara Knight didn’t like the South Florida climate, said Smith, so the couple moved to California, but kept a residence in Miami Beach.
Knight, co-founder of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, which once owned The Miami Herald, died in 1991. Knight-Ridder was sold to McClatchy Media Company, which now owns the Herald, in 2006.
Smith said her friend had been involved with Miami Children’s Hospital, and with charities benefitting children in Los Angeles. She endowed the John H. Richardson and Margaret Kersten Ponty medical research fellowship at the University of Southern California. Ponty was Smith’s mother.
Knight had no children, but doted on her white standard poodles, Barbie and BJ. They’ll live with a cousin, Smith said.
A private funeral was held.
Donations in her memory may be made to ARCS-Los Angeles Chapter (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists), 24250 Hawthorne Blvd. #113, Torrance, CA 90505, or The League for Children, 1910 Magnolia Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90007.