Obituary: William Soren Mortensen, Long-time Resident


William Soren Mortensen, who was born on July 19, 1932, passed away on February 28 at his home of 50 years in the Huntington Palisades.

He was born in Philadelphia to Helen and Dr. William L. Mortensen, where his father was finishing medical training. The family relocated to Santa Monica, which is where William attended Lincoln Middle School and Santa Monica High School.

He spent summers working at the hospital as a dishwasher earning 50 cents an hour and then as an orderly earning 75 cents an hour. He recalls growing up thinking that his grandfather, who always dressed formally for dinner, was extraordinarily wealthy.

“One day, I asked my grandfather if he was a millionaire,” Bill said. “He said, ‘No, I’m not, but I could have been. I enjoyed giving away money more than I did just adding it up.'”

Bill went to USC, graduating with a business degree in 1954.

He served in the U.S. Navy, traveling around the world on the U.S.S. Mansfield and was honorably discharged in 1957.

Bill started his banking career that same year as an appraiser at First Federal Savings (later First Federal Bank). He became president of the company in 1969, and later served as CEO and chairman until his retirement in 1997.

In 1959, when Bill was about 27, his father married Barbara Billingsley, who played Mrs. Cleaver on “Leave it to Beaver.” (Billingsley’s first husband started Billingsley’s restaurant on Pico. Her kids still own it.)

He met his wife Nancy Sullivan, a preschool teacher, who lived in an adjacent apartment complex. The couple were married on January 3, 1959 and celebrated 58 years of marriage, before she passed away in December 2016.

The couple had 6 children and first lived on Via de la Paz. Ten years later, they moved to a larger home in the Huntington Palisades.

Their oldest son Bill, 17, was killed in a car accident with two of his friends, when traveling home on Sunset.

Bill attended St. Monica’s Church and Corpus Christi Church. In his obit in the L.A. Times, the family wrote that he believed in prayer and that after his son Bill, Jr. had been killed in the accident, he reached out and forgave the person responsible for the accident. “Years later, Bill would describe this moment as the beginning of his healing process during a most emotionally-challenging and painful period.”

His grandfather co-founded First Federal Savings and Santa Monica Hospital, now called UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.  When the Depression hit in 1929, the hospital suffered financially because so many cash-strapped patients were unable to afford hospital services. Dr. Mortensen asked his business manager to leave some extra lights on at night so he wouldn’t have to see all those dark rooms, which “keep me from sleeping nights.”

That same year, despite, or perhaps because of, his worries about the hospital’s future, Dr. Mortensen also launched First Federal Bank of Santa Monica, a public company that he quickly converted into a mutual savings and loan.

“He was uncommon in that he was both an outstanding surgeon and an outstanding businessman,” said Bill, who has two portraits of his grandfather hanging on the walls of his English cottage-style home in Pacific Palisades, and described his grandfather’s generosity as legendary.

When his housekeeper mentioned that she and others were trying to raise money to build a church, Dr. Mortensen not only gave them the biggest donation they received, but also co-signed the loan that allowed them to build Calvary Baptist Church, which bills itself as the “first black church in Santa Monica.”

Bill often said his grandfather taught him it felt better to give than to receive, and he practiced that adage.

He and Nancy will be remembered for their philanthropic support, including the St. John’s Hospital, the YMCA, Catholic Charities, Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club, USC Pepperdine, LMU, Marymount High, Santa Monica High, Loyola High, Washington High, St. Monica High and Roosevelt Elementary. Bill led the major funding drive to repair the damaged St. Monica’s Church after the Northridge Earthquake.

He was preceded in death by his wife Nancy, Bill Jr. and by his parents and step-mother Barbara, sister, brother, and grandchild Joseph William Allegrette (Angel at birth).

He is survived by his remaining five children, Mary, Anne (Russell Allegrette) Tom, David and Peter (Simona), and his loving grandchildren: Brenden, Bill, Abby, Maggie, Nick, Grace, Rose, Lola and Nathan. The funeral will be private because of local Covid-19 health restrictions.

In lieu of flowers, donations would greatly assist St. John’s Health Center Foundation, Catholic Education Foundation, Santa Monica Unified School District, St. Monica’s Catholic Church and Corpus Christi Parish.

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