At Home With Jessie J. Knight Jr. & Joye D. Blount
A Navy warship cruises past us to the strains of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, the popular classical composition by Carl Orff, oft played in epic battle scenes. The irony isn’t lost on Jessie J. Knight Jr. and Joye D. Blount, the well-known San Diego power couple who have made names in both business and philanthropy. We are sitting in the living room of their Point Loma condominium, overlooking San Diego Bay, watching the world sail past. “It was so ironic and fitting to highlight the juxtaposition of a powerfully iconic symbol of San Diego’s pre-eminence and beauty,” Blount later says. The couple never tires of this bustling maritime scene: military craft, pleasure boats, and cruise ships.
Knight is the recently retired Sempra Executive VP of External Affairs, as well as Chairman of Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric, where he also served as CEO. Before joining Sempra, he headed up the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and served as a California PUC Commissioner under Governor Pete Wilson (among many other high-profile jobs). Blount, a wealth management advisor with U.S. Bank’s Private Client Reserve, has spent more than 19 years in banking, and before that, in education, as a middle school principal in North Carolina.
Their Point Loma home, with views of North Island, is a peaceful refuge from their public lives. It is a neighborhood rich in San Diego history — from Portuguese tuna fishermen to the city’s civic elite. Point Loma remains home to some of San Diego’s most successful and charitable families (including Nancy Peckham, who sold the condo to Knight). Three years after they met at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco — followed by a long-distance courtship — Knight and Blount put down their own roots in Point Loma. In 2002, they were married in the base chapel at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
The couple’s home reflects their love of travel, especially to China. They love the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Chongqing, but also rural China, fascinated by what Blount calls “the dichotomy of lifestyle”— a peasant with oxen and a cell phone, for example.
Filled with a fine collection of Chinese furniture, artwork, and artifacts, the home has a 1,500-year-old door that once protected a fortress. In the entryway, a sculpture of a Chinese warrior “stands guard.” In the living room, the couple framed antique finery: a Chinese wedding dress and groom’s robe. A vintage wooden basket once carried food for a long-ago wedding party. The couple’s coffee table is fashioned from a Chinese door, topped with a ceramic piece festooned with dragons. Silk paintings, bought from the estate sale of a former ambassador to China, adorn the walls. Collectables include carved jade and vintage snuffboxes. Asian touches abound, from sliding carved wood panels that close the kitchen off from the dining room to a sumptuous rosewood bed covered in silk.
The couple maintains an energetic schedule, rising at 4:30 each morning to work out with Alvin Puma of Downtown Fitness, with whom they have trained six days a week for the past 12 years. Keeping fit and healthy is important to them given their busy lives and long hours devoted to numerous business and philanthropic pursuits.
Knight serves on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Alaska Airlines, the Timken Museum of Art, J. Craig Venter Institute, and UC San Diego Foundation, and advisory boards including the School of Management, Calit2, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and InfraGard, a partnership between the FBI and the private sector. Blount is on advisory boards for Point Loma Nazarene University, the National Conflict Resolution Center, the San Diego Zoo Foundation, Voices for Children’s Community Ambassadors Council, and the Balboa Park Conservancy. Appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the conservancy’s goals include restoring the historic Botanical Building to its original luster.
In May, LEAD San Diego will honor Knight with the Neil Morgan Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement for his long-term leadership in the region. Several other organizations have honored Knight for his life’s work, including the Regional Chamber of Commerce, Black Chamber of Commerce/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Asian Business Association, and the Secure Our eCity Foundation. He’s also the recipient of “Director of the Year” from the Corporate Directors Forum, the “President’s Leadership Award” from the Southern California Association of Governments, the “Golden Achievement Award” from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, and the “Scientists Recognition Award” from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The American Heart Association named Blount a 2016 “Legendary Woman of the Heart” at last month’s “Go Red for Women” luncheon; she is also a 2012 “Woman of Dedication,” honored by the Salvation Army for her philanthropic work. She recently also chaired (with Julie Brown) the San Diego Girls Scout’s salute to “Cool Women of 2016.”
Both received special recognition from SEAL Team One for their support and generosity after the couple helped underwrite last year’s Christmas party as the SEALs were getting ready to deploy.
Although retired, Knight is not slowing down; in fact, he and Blount are ramping up. “We’re devoting ourselves to greater involvement in philanthropy and community work,” he says. “And so we are in the process of setting up a family foundation for philanthropy, focusing on people doing good things around education, women, minorities, and veterans.”
The foundation’s name, fittingly, is Knight Angels; its logo inspired by the famous Michelangelo sculpture depicting Michael, the archangel, conquering Lucifer in the battle for heaven and earth (there’s a reproduction of that inspirational sculpture in the couple’s living room).
“We are the beneficiaries of many blessings,” says Blount when asked why they are devoting even more time and resources to charitable causes. “We both came from little means and were born to parents with little formal education but who had huge commitment to their children getting the best education possible. Therefore, we had the blessings of great parents, great educations, and high standards and values in our families. We have a duty to give back to our community and to the less fortunate.”
Charitable and business events often fill their evenings, but they also love the opera, attending performances not only in San Diego, but also in Los Angeles and San Francisco. When dining out, they prefer such neighborhood spots as Pomodoro and Old Venice in Point Loma, Solare in Liberty Station, Shelter Island’s C Level, Hexagone on Laurel, and Bertrand at Mister A’s in Bankers Hill. But the most special times are dinners at home, just the two of them, where they light the candles, set a beautiful table, catch up on the events of the day, and, no doubt, watch the world sail past. Andrea Naversen