Lila Littlejohn, a veteran journalist, journalism teacher and former editor of The Signal, died Sunday morning peacefully in her sleep at her home in Florida, according to family.
Lucinda Baker, her elder sister, said the cause of death was related to a genetic anomaly that could be traced to their ancestors. The genetic anomaly causes the aorta to dilate, and at the end of June, Littlejohn had heart surgery to repair the health issue.
“As far as we can tell, her cause of death is not directly related to that, but it’s somehow related to that because she probably died of an embolism to the brain or the heart,” Baker said. “She died asleep. There was no struggle or anything, but we thought she had been doing really well.”
Baker said her family was unsure about funeral plans because her family is scattered. However, she mentioned they may consider a funeral service in Southern California. Littlejohn will be put to rest alongside their parents, Baker added.
According to Baker, Littlejohn moved to Florida about five years ago from her home in Canyon Country.
“I’ve been out here in Florida to be with her since before the surgery, and she was making good progress walking, doing exercises, in physical therapy and more,” Baker said. “It was just a total shock on Sunday morning when she was gone.”
Baker described Littlejohn as a “great story teller” and said she liked to get involved where she was.
“She had gotten involved with a church here in Florida. She had been involved with the horticulture club and she dabbled in a variety of things in Florida because she wasn’t working any longer after she came out here [to Florida].”
Littlejohn moved to Florida in 2017 with her cat. She drove across the country from California to Florida, but she’s a fifth-generation Southern Californian, Baker said.
Littlejohn lived in the Santa Clarita Valley in 1969 and called Canyon Country home for 15 years.
“She loved being in Canyon Country, that was just really her element,” Baker said. “She really loved the time she was up there. She lived in Pasadena and in various other places around Southern California, but she really loves Canyon Country… that’s where she raised her boys.”
Littlejohn had a rich history in the Santa Clarita Valley, which began in her undergraduate years at College of the Canyons. Baker recalled her sister being enthralled with geology at one point in her life.
“She and I took several trips with a geology class. We went out to Death Valley and we went up into the Sierras. She was quite enamored with the whole geological phenomenon of the desert. I always called her a desert rat. She never corrected me,” Baker said.
But Littlejohn was passionate about the English language and writing.
She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at California State University, Northridge, according to Baker.
She was a news reporter and editor for The Associated Press in Los Angeles, the City News Service of Los Angeles, city editor of the Pasadena Star-News, and reporter and city editor for The Signal.
She also served in a position on the copy desk of the Daily News in Woodland Hills. She was a teacher and mentor, too.
Littlejohn taught journalism at College of the Canyons, Mount San Antonio College and the University of Southern California.
“She enjoyed teaching,” said Loy, Littlejohn’s elder brother. “She especially was insistent on use of proper English. Vernacular English was an anathema for her.”
She began her journalism career at The Signal when Scott Newhall was editor and the paper published three days a week, according to a news story published in 2007 announcing her position as the editor.
Perry Smith, a former managing editor for The Signal, described Littlejohn as a mentor for a lot of people who were starting out in journalism — including himself.
“She taught many lessons to so many young journalists,” Smith said. “We always had to be very mindful of not just getting all the information and getting it accurately, but also making sure we were grammatically correct and as clear as possible for the reader.”
“She just took such great care and respect for her field. She imparted that to a lot of people. She taught through example.”
Smith described Littlejohn with fondness regarding her strong personality and her sense of judgement.
“And I am among many who consider themselves lucky to have worked with her. She taught so many journalists over time… and I just know she made an impact on journalists she taught and imparted on future generations.”
Littlejohn is survived by her two sons, Tomas and Brian, and three grandchildren, according to Baker.
“She had a full life and she enjoyed life. We weren’t ready for her to go, but she was well prepared. She was definitely a dedicated individual: dedicated to her family, her profession and the proper use of the English language,” wrote Baker in an email.