A-Listers in Memoriam

By Catherine Bigelow and Paul Wilner

Paying tribute to those we lost last year.

Ron Huddleston

As told to Catherine Bigelow

The untimely death of pioneering tech entrepreneur Ron Huddleston last September at age 45 was a gut punch to his beloved family and devoted friends, many of whom fondly call the joyful inner circle he cultivated “the Rontourage.” An Alabama native, Huddleston grew up in San Diego burnishing his love of California living: water polo, technology, sunset surfing and classic cars. After graduating in economics from UC Berkeley, he soon joined Oracle and quickly climbed to vice president, launching the software behemoth’s inaugural ISV software vendor program. Later, at Salesforce, he developed the company’s online AppExchange marketplace into a $500 million global business. In 2016, he was lured away to Seattle by Microsoft, but he returned to San Francisco last February as Twilio’s chief partners officer. To the friends he enveloped, it was no surprise Ron’s nickname was “Huddles.”

Peter Stern, SVP of corporate development at Inxeption, remembers Huddleston:

Ron was one of the greatest humans to ever walk this planet. He was my best friend and my nonbiological brother. 

I had the privilege of meeting Ron in the summer of 1994 prior to my first year at UC Berkeley. I’d just finished water polo practice and some teammates suggested we visit their fraternity house.

So a bunch of chlorinated, wide-eyed freshman polo players walked up the hill to PIKE [Pi Kappa Alpha], where we met the coolest person on the planet who would change our lives forever: Ronald James Huddleston. He welcomed us, introducing his vast network of friends and his passion for working on Mustangs. Ron later drove us to 7-11 to experience another of his passions: a Big Gulp. But I believe it was the experience of driving friends to 7-11 in his Mustang, blaring his favorite songs, that pleased him most.

Our group never looked back: We joined Ron’s world. But it was quickly evident that Ron’s world was never just about Ron. He became an older brother to many of us. His No. 1 goal was to architect our lives and the world around us to ensure happiness.

Ron was an expert collector — yet Ron expertly collected friends who ultimately became his extended family. His remarkable talent of making everyone feel welcome, important and special was second to none. This was Ron’s roadmap for life.

When Ron graduated Cal and joined Oracle, his knack for building “Ron’s world” continued, executing his vision to assemble his “contracts team” — a collection of ex-Berkeley graduates and friends embarking on their careers.

After graduation, Ron brought 11 of us to Oracle. And the “Rontourage’” was born. Like the Pied Piper he was, every single one of us followed him: no questions, no looking back. Just being part of Ron’s orbit was enough.

At Salesforce, where he relished working under the tutelage of founder Marc Benioff and George Hu (now COO at Twilio), Ron became the leading force of the ISV (independent software vendor) movement.

To say they broke the mold with Ron is an understatement. In life, you’re taught to surround yourself with people who make you a better person. Ron was the epitome of making everyone and everything not only better but the best.  His gift of compassion, generosity, authenticity and decency was off the charts. 

Whether he was playing video games with our kids, or teaching them some obscure science facts they would never use in their lifetime, or celebrating every milestone and accomplishment with family or friends, or being there cheering you — personally or professionally — Ron was THE guy. He was that good. He was your biggest fan, your most encouraging champion, your forever devoted and loyal person. He was everyone’s person. And that’s why he will be so colossally missed.

Sydney Goldstein

As told to Paul Wilner

Sydney Goldstein knew how to throw an elegant party  — but one that was a public conversation for an educated and enthusiastic audience, literary and cultural stars from Susan Sontag and Joan Didion to Alec Baldwin and Bruce Springsteen.

Photo by Susana Bates for Drew Altizer Photography.

Goldstein, who founded the City Arts & Lectures series in 1980, somehow made it look easy, encouraging the great and near-great to confide their stories in a safe, but never stuffy, forum.

Her death on September 25 at age 73 left fans and admirers, from Dave Eggers to Calvin “Bud” Trillin and NPR’s Terry Gross devastated, and marked a significant loss to Bay Area — and national — cultural life. The only onstage interview she did was with comedian Jonathan Winters, but her fingerprints were all over the series even after she handed over the City Arts reins to her daughter, Kate Goldstein-Breyer, and Holly Mulder-Wollan in 2017. She had as much impact in her field as Bay Area icons like Bill Graham, though she was definitely less abrasive as she coaxed marquee talent to the main stage — first at the Herbst Theater and then as the driving force behind the move to the greatly expanded Nourse Theater in 2013.

A Lowell High School graduate, Goldstein found true love with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, whom she met at a party in 1975, and married four months later. (Their son, Joseph, is an attorney with the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office.)

She is remembered here by her friend Meredith White, former deputy managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and ABC Television producer:

We met through mutual friends including Will Hearst, [East Coast editor] Terry McDonnell, Bud Trillin and [literary agent] Binky Urban, communicating through email before I came out here in 2006. I went to see her in her office, and it was just instant love. I was attracted to how straightforward she was. Sydney reminded me of a New Yorker because of her kind of energy, no-bullshit approach and doggedness, but I soon came to realize she was pure San Franciscan. She didn’t like being far from the city or her family. She was San Francisco, heart and soul.

 She was a great producer who had the knack of matching people with the right moderators. She was incredibly curious about everyone’s stories and had her finger on the pulse of what was going on — what would be important to people in San Francisco — and also what she thought people in San Francisco should be thinking about. And she was wickedly funny — everything was just more fun when she was around.

She wasn’t intimidated by the guests, she was totally at ease, but more than anything else she worried about how they were feeling and wanted to make sure they were comfortable.

The memorial service for her at Nourse Auditorium was absolutely perfect, a very moving tribute. The stage was lit beautifully, and the two chairs, a trademark of Sydney’s, were on stage. Empty. The speakers were placed slightly above the stage, so the empty chairs rose above, center stage. They made Sydney feel very present. A wonderful slide show was looped before the service began. There had been absolutely no public announcement, it was all word of mouth, and people kept filing in. The entire 1,800-seat theater was filled. The speakers were Steven Winn, Patricia Unterman, Calvin Trillin, Jeffrey Toobin, Dave Eggers, Kay Ryan, Joseph Goldstein-Breyer and Charles Breyer.

One of the most powerful moments was when Eggers brought a student [Kenan Mirou] to the stage who had been a recipient of an 826 Valencia college scholarship. Before he introduced him, he spoke of how dedicated Sydney was to the program, and how many fundraisers City Arts had held for it. 

They all spoke of how Sydney made City Arts & Lectures seem like a family affair, with the dinners she hosted before or after the show, and with offers of a bedroom in the Goldstein-Breyer home should they need one on future visits to San Francisco. He said Sydney got very involved in picking scholarship winners, and how it broke her heart when one of the great candidates had to be cut from the list. Eggers said it would just prompt Sydney to host another event! The young man who was one of the recipients spoke very movingly about receiving the scholarship and ended his remarks with: “I will spend the rest of my life working to be worthy of Sydney Goldstein’s faith in me.’’

At the beautiful reception upstairs in the Green Room at the Herbst Theatre, small boxes of See’s Candy were placed on the tables. Sydney was wild about See’s (that was one more thing I loved about her). Many of her spectacular black and white photographs had been printed in a book so guests could look through them. Sydney could have had a whole other career as a photographer.

San Francisco without her is a little like New York after Nora Ephron died. … We lost a person who was a big, big, personality in a city that she epitomized in many ways, adding to the romance of the place. Without Nora, New York seemed a lot less sparkly, and without Sydney, San Francisco is a whole lot grayer.She left a big hole in this city that no one will ever fill. 

Gerald Nachman

As Told to Paul Wilner

Photo by Mike Kepka for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The death of Gerald Nachman last November at the age of 80 marked the end of an era and a remarkable career. Over the course of his five-decade career, Nachman wore many hats as an author, critic and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and author and Town Crier columnist for the Gazette. A figure who sometimes seemed made for a different age — he openly detested rock ’n’ roll, but loved the sounds of the Great American Songbook, from Sinatra to Tony Bennett, which he wrote about in Showstoppers!, his 2016 book about Broadway musicals. He also celebrated now-bygone entertainment with the books Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! (subject: The Ed Sullivan Show) and Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (typically, he did not care much for the successors to legends Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl)

Nachman is remembered by his friends Rita Abrams, most famous for her hit ’60s tune “Mill Valley,” and KQED talk show host Michael Krasny, a frequent guest at his legendary lunchtime gatherings:

Rita Abrams: Gerry was born in Oakland and grew up and went to high school here. His first job was with the San Jose Mercury, then he went to New York and worked for the New York Post and New York Daily News, then came back here and joined the Chronicle. We were friends and collaborators who worked together on two shows, Aftershocks, a little satirical musical about life in San Francisco, and then, some years later, along with our friend Morris Bobrow, New Wrinkles.

He had a very specific vision of what he thought was art, and very little tolerance for what he thought wasn’t. That’s why he was a critic. He once sent me a joking card, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.’’ He had feuds with people like Carol Channing, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Newley, who was really furious about one of his reviews and sent him a caustic retort. But Gerry didn’t mind being controversial at all — he wore it like a badge of honor.

When he was the Chronicle’s “Little Man,” he loved the celebrity — when he walked into a theater like the Curran, he was clearly the most important person. People loved or hated him, depending on what he thought of the show. But as a friend, he had an innate sense of empathy that was not always obvious. That was the two sides that made him so interesting. If you sat across from him and told him something difficult that was going on in your life, he understood.  

And he had a soft spot for anything that was vintage San Francisco. Many of us never really feel like we’ve found our true home, but Gerry definitely found his.

Michael Krasny: Gerry was kind of a bridge figure between the old days of the Chronicle, with columnists like Charles McCabe, Ralph J. Gleason and Herb Caen, and what was to come. He knew what he liked and didn’t, which is saying something for a critic. It wasn’t just rock music, he hated rap, too — and he was a bit prudish, so didn’t like it when the new comedians started working blue.

We had a running argument about Motown music, which I loved. I remember taking him to see Smokey Robinson down somewhere on the Peninsula, and about 10 minutes in, he walked out. He said he couldn’t take the part where Smokey asked the audience to sing along with him. I said, “Gerry, you’re hopeless.”

He had a regular group, “The Gang of Four,” who he dined with, including the comedians Brian Copeland and Bob Sarlatte. I remember once Ronn Owens joined us. We’d go to place like the Magic Flute on Sacramento or the Gold Mirror, an old-school Italian place on Taraval which looked like somewhere wise guys from The Sopranos would hang out.  But Gerry didn’t care if the food was supposed to be healthy or not. He stood boldly behind the food he liked — the same way he was as a critic.

 He could throw a punch, but he was a lovely guy and a good friend. Someone you could count on. If I was in a Tijuana jail and had two calls to make, one of them would be to Gerry. You knew he’d be there for you. I remember when I left KGO under less-than-ideal circumstances, he wrote a column about my time and contribution there, which I really appreciated.

Leonard Stefanelli

As told to Catherine Bigelow

Following a long illness, former Sunset Scavenger president Leonard Stefanelli died April 6, 2018, at age 83. A native San Franciscan descended from Italian-American immigrants, he attended Polytechnic High School, where the dean warned Stefanelli that if he didn’t work on his attitude and grades, he’d “end up picking up garbage.” After barely graduating, the street-wise 19-year-old — prone to salty language — did just that, joining the Italian-dominated waste-collection industry. 

Rising rapidly in the ranks, Stefanelli purchased a share of the employee-owned company and took his perch on Truck 27, collecting garbage in the Fillmore District. He met Virginia (“Ginger”) Campi, a daughter of a garbageman. They married in 1959. After the birth of their children, Joseph and Gina, Stefanelli attended night school at USF to study accounting, corporate law and business. By 31, he had become company president, and he is credited with transforming San Francisco waste collection via new compacting trucks, curbside recycling, landfill re-strategization and purchasing other refuse companies. All this in spite of being pushed out of the company, only later to be rehired as a consultant. The company rebranded: first as NorCal and later as Recology, which is now a billion-dollar business serving more than 130 communities in California, Oregon and Washington. It operates 15 transfer stations, 12 materials-recovery facilities, nine organic-processing facilities, three landfills and a San Francisco artist-in-residence program. In 2017, University of Nevada Press published Stefanelli’s autobiography, Garbage: The Saga of a Boss Scavenger in San Francisco.

Quentin Kopp, retired Superior Court judge and former SF supervisor, remembers his friend:

Leonard and I met in 1958 in North Beach at a wedding in Saints Peter and Paul Church. He had just married Virginia. We remained friends since and lived near each other near Lake Merced. For many summers, 25 of us would take a stag weekend up at Hetch Hetchy, where we fished, played cards, drank and sometimes even hiked.

During the Cold War in the 1950s, Len served on the submarine Catfish and was a member of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Association. He was instrumental in bringing the USS Pampanito sub that served in World War II to Fisherman’s Wharf as a floating museum.

We belonged to the same clubs: He was co-president of the Triple-I (Irish-Israeli-Italian) Society, where I’m now co-president. Len was incredibly generous: Every three weeks at the Olympic Club, I’d find a salami chub he’d left in my locker. 

At the Calamari Club, a men’s group that meets for lunch at Scoma’s, Len held the fourth-longest tenure. For years he played Santa Claus, dressing up in that suit. We all had fish names: The president is always “Kingfish.” Len was “Albacore.” I’m “Gefilte fish,” which technically isn’t a fish.

Every election, Sunset Scavenger held a Candidates Night at its meeting hall on 6th Street. It was always a good crowd and they served free food — no matter who was running, everyone went for the great Italian food. 

There wasn’t an empty seat at St. Stephen’s for Leonard’s funeral. It was a full house at his longtime parish. Like her husband, Ginger isn’t one to mince words — especially when it came to their feelings about City Hall politics. They were together for almost 60 years: Ginger was his perfect match. 

Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson

As told to Paul Wilner

Harry W. “Hunk’’ Anderson was someone who towered over the Bay Area art scene, figuratively and literally. At the time of his death at his home in Atherton last February at 95, he had succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams: first by building the dorm food empire Saga Foods; then, along with his wife, Mary Margaret (engagingly nicknamed “Moo’’), by gathering an art collection estimated to be more than 1,400 pieces and worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Hunk” with wife “Moo.”

Anderson was born in Corning, New York, and attended Hobart College, where, along with two school friends, he founded the company that became Saga. Later, the company relocated to Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park and was acquired by Marriott Hotels in 1996 — for more than $400 million.

The Andersons’ real passion was for art, starting with Picasso, Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and other American artists of the 1930s and ’40s. They then embraced pop art with a vengeance, including works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as iconic abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, whose “Lucifer’’ painting enjoyed pride of place for many years in the bedroom of their daughter, Mary Patricia (“Putter’’) Anderson.

They were famed for their generosity, donating more than 600 graphic art works to the Fine Arts Museums in 1996 and many valuable pop pieces to SFMOMA, which sponsored a special exhibition, “Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection’’ in 2000. Their largest donation, however, was to the Anderson Collection museum, a separate building adjoining the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. The 2014 opening was an event drawing worldwide attention.

Veteran San Francisco gallery owner John Berggruen reminisces about his friend:

Hunk and Moo were two of the most genuine, down-to-earth people I’ve met, in terms of their steadfast interest in life, deportment, attitude, curiosity and word of honor, something always important to me, and their commitment. 

I met them in the early 70s. They visited the gallery and knew I specialized in European and American art of a certain quality, and that I also subscribed to the work from Tatyana Grosman’s Universal Limited Arts Edition, with many known artists (including Lee Bontecou, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell). He got his own subscription through our gallery  — we made a little money on it, and he saved some, too — and ended up buying one of everything they produced.

That gave me a kind of entrée and reason for constant communication with the Andersons. I would personally bring prints down to him at Saga, or go to his home. We became lifelong friends — I felt I could drop in on him unannounced when I was in the neighborhood. In my younger days, I would play tennis with him and Putter, and sometimes Frank Stella, who liked Hunk because he was so down-to-earth, and Wayne Thiebaud. Over time, I enjoyed seeing them whether it was in San Francisco, down on the Peninsula, Art Basel in Zurich, or their homes in Tahoe and Abrego Springs.

They formed relationships, not just with me but with a New York dealer named David McKee, who is now retired, and Stanford art historian Albert Elsen, and their tastes changed. They’d been interested in European and American modern art of the ’30s and ’40s, but intuitively realized they found artists of their own generation were more compelling. Later on, they couldn’t help but be aware of the pop art movement through Leo Castelli, who put them on to people like Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.  

Hunk had a Saga partner named Bill Loughlin, who I knew through a family connection. One time I was down there, and he took me aside, and said, “Young man, let me ask you a question: What is Hunk doing spending all that money to buy all that crazy art?” Of course, Hunk had the last laugh, given what “Lucifer’’ alone — let alone the rest of the collection — is worth now. I remember when it was hanging in Putter’s bedroom. It had a frame around it, and around the frame were all the ribbons Putter had won in equestrian events. 

The collection ended up going to Stanford because Hunk was a man who knew what he wanted. He wasn’t ambivalent about things. He wanted this enormous collection to be in one place, with its own building. With SFMOMA’s expansion, which has been an extraordinary, incredible thing for our community and the world, they couldn’t quite do that — they were landlocked. 

But Hunk always had a connection to Stanford by virtue of living down there, knowing Elsen and Nathan Oliveira, who was on the faculty there for many years, too. They did a wonderful job of raising the money for the building, and I was there for the groundbreaking and the opening, of course. It was a perfect solution and he was so happy to see it open. He always had a great spirit. He would go to events, but couldn’t care less about cocktail parties or any kind of publicity. He enjoyed his home life, his family, his work — and the thrill of finding art.

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