It was 1957 when Linda Elliott started waitressing at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and Cordelia Knott first bestowed the nickname “Pam” on her.
There was another Linda already waitressing, Knott told her, so Pam would have to do. The name stuck, and Elliott continued to serve fried chicken with the name “Pam” buttoned on her front for the next 51 years, most of them five-day work weeks.
“She got along with everybody; she was a very good-hearted person,” said Aileen Leithead, 84, her best friend and a co-worker. “She really loved her job. A lot of people just came in to see the woman that was in her 80s working.”
Elliott died at a nursing home on Nov. 29 in West Plains, Mo. at age 88 after a several-week battle with pneumonia.
At Knott’s, Elliott was a chatty people-person adored by regulars and movie stars alike. She would send out nearly 3,000 Christmas cards to the customers and friends whose addresses filled the pocketbooks she kept with her when she worked, said daughter Patricia Ebarb. She stayed in good shape, and was an active roller skater until she turned 80.
“Once she came home from work, walked in the door and said, ‘I’ll never wash my right hand again,” Patricia Edarb recalled. “’I shook the hand of John Wayne tonight.’”
Born Linda Laney in 1925, she grew up in her hometown of Bakersfield. She was married for a short time to Gerald Elliott and the couple moved to Buena Park; they divorced in 1952. Shortly after, she moved with her two daughters to Anaheim and began working at the restaurant. She stayed in Anaheim for more than 50 years, never remarrying.
Cordelia, wife of park founder Walter Knott, was like a mother to Elliott, Ebarb said; she often gave handmade jewelry to Elliott and the other waitresses who worked there until she died in 1974.
Why Elliott stayed at Knott’s so long was simple.
“People say to me all the time, ‘Why don’t you quit and do something you can enjoy?’“ Elliott told the Register in 2007. “I tell them, ‘I am enjoying myself; I’m serving you.’ … I get joy out of waiting on people.”
In 2008, Elliott retired.
Alzheimer’s disease had begun to take effect; she had difficulty remembering how to get home in the evenings. She moved to West Plains to be with family in 2010, and had a stroke soon after.
“It broke her heart that she had to retire, because she was afraid she wouldn’t see her customers anymore,” Ebarb said. “She was so afraid she’d never see them again.”
There will be a memorial service at 5 p.m. Friday, at Lifeline Ministries of the Ozarks, in West Plains. Flowers can be sent to the church, listed at 915 Lanton Road, West Plains, Mo. 65775.
She’s survived by her two daughters, Patricia Ebarb and Shelly Stone.