A-Listers in Memoriam

Charlot D. Malin

Although she was a transplant from her native Norway, within a very short period Charlot D. Malin became one of the major presences on the San Francisco social, cultural and charity circuits.

Her sudden death on March 13, 2017, at age 48, left a hole in the lives of the many people she touched in the city, from her loving husband, Gregory Malin, and their twin sons, Benjamin and Sebastian, to co-workers at Troon Pacific, the company they co-founded, where she served as COO and Director of Design. Also blindsided were those who witnessed her passion to help others through her work at the San Francisco Opera Guild, SFMOMA, the San Francisco Zoo and the Voss Foundation, which brings fresh water and sanitation services to sub-Saharan Africa.

Her personal style and fashion-forward looks were impeccable, but it is the grace, modesty and quiet determination for which she continues to be most remembered. The celebration of Charlot’s life held at Grace Cathedral last April was unforgettable. And so is Malin, who lives on in the hearts of her wide network of friends and family.

Gregory Malin remembers her here:

It means the world to our family how supportive the city has been—it’s remarkable.

What made her so amazing? What Charlot would probably say is that it was a willingness to roll up your sleeves and take action—just do it. Many people donate time or money, but to really roll up your sleeves and be willing to do all the hard work involved is something else.

She brought efficiency and confidence to everything she did. That combination ensures that decision-making gets done. With that confidence, you believe in the decision. Her decisions were usually final—it was rare that she changed her mind. That allowed her to move the process along, and give so much as a mother, wife and executive—and still give so much back to the community.

We met in 1992, and got married in 1995.

Our first meeting was entirely by chance. A friend of a friend had a party in lower Pacific Heights and our eyes met. The next day, we went on a date at a restaurant called Lascaux, which was holding a Mother’s Day brunch by a gourmet chef. We didn’t want the date to end, so we ended up going to a movie together. It was Beauty and the Beast and we had to go way out of town to find it. And then we ended up going to The Stinking Rose for dinner. What I found so amazing was that you could just be yourself with her—it’s such a beautiful quality—she was so disarming, so comfortable to talk to, so real.

We got married in Oslo, in a 700-year-old castle right on the waterfront.

At her memorial, this wonderful woman came up to me who was a police officer whose son went to Town School for Boys, which our sons also attended. She said she didn’t really feel “part of the school community there until I met your wife. One day, I was sleeping in my car outside the school—I’d been working all night, but my son had a soccer practice—when this woman came up and knocked on my door and said, ‘I’ll take your son home. You should go home and rest.’ Your wife really changed my feeling about the community, and the school.”

That was what Charlot was like. If you needed something, you’d never have to ask her if it was all right. She’d say, “What’s the difference between feeding four children or eight, or having two children or four in your car?”

Charlot was—is—I promised my son I would use the present tense—inspiring to so many people. She met the [Norwegian designer] Keyna Aranguren when she was really just starting out, and convinced her to come over, and before she knew it, she was making dresses for Charlot’s friends at the San Francisco Opera Guild.

There was a grit to Charlot that many people don’t know about that probably came from her Scandinavian roots. She was there to help both our fathers when they had health issues. She might have seemed petite and well dressed if you saw her around at fancy functions, but there was just a really strong sense of helping others.

There was an underlying current to what she was doing: Further equal rights for women. The Voss Foundation work really hit a nerve when she heard that women had to carry water for men in sub-Saharan Africa, and that they had to pull their daughters out of school, where they might be subject to rape, to do so. The idea of changing that by bringing a well into a village was very important to her. For my 50th birthday, we went to Africa on safari and then decided to dedicate time to go to Swaziland to see the water wells she’d helped to get built.

She’s been an inspiration—there are not many places I can go in San Francisco without meeting people who told me how much they appreciated her, and what a difference she made in their lives.


Kevin Starr

Kevin Starr’s death of a heart attack last January was a loss felt across the country, but most directly by Californians, who mourned their state’s preeminent historian. At 76, the natty, bow-tied gentleman always seemed young at heart. A fourth-generation San Franciscan, he managed duties as the state librarian, lecturer at the University of Southern California, and author of Americans and the California Dream, a multi-volume history of the state, along with many other works, including the books California and Golden Gate: The Life and Times of California’s Greatest Bridge.

“Kevin Starr chronicled the history of California as no one else,” Governor Jerry Brown has said. “He captured the history of our state and brought to life the characters and personalities that made the California story bigger than life.” Indeed. Among many other honors, President George W. Bush presented Starr with the National Humanities Medal for his scholarship in 2006. Other accolades included a Guggenheim Fellowship, the gold medal of the Commonwealth Club of California, and his induction, in 2010, into the California Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila Starr, two daughters, Jessica Starr and Marian Starr Imperatore, and an unparalleled body of work.

“He did an enormous amount of research,” says Marianne Hinckle, who worked with Starr when he edited the Bohemian Literary Quarterly. “Sheila told me that when he died he had 47 or 48 books open, with the pages marked.”

Starr’s longtime friend and USF classmate Charles Fracchia, founder of the San Francisco Historical Society, recalls Starr’s particular star power:

He and I met in 1958. He was in my brother’s class at USF, three years behind me, and we were friends ever since. It was a strange group of rogues­—Warren Hinckle was in my class. We bonded over the fact that we had very similar interests, including the Catholic Church and classical studies. We had a couple of Latin classes together.

Kevin operated on a number of different levels. He was a brilliant, absolutely spectacular teacher. His series of books on Americans and the California dream did for this state what Van Wyck Brooks did for New England­—it was an extraordinary achievement. Others, including Josiah Royce, had written about California, and there were books on the Golden Gate Bridge and so forth, but he had the ability to focus on the various peculiar aspects of California culture and history.

One of my theories is that the Gold Rush created California, particularly San Francisco, and in many ways we are still living on the DNA of that 19th-century history. Kevin was able to isolate that phenomenon, and show the particularities and peculiarity of the state: the fact that the motion picture and television industry was born here, the creation of the UC master plan, and that Silicon Valley was created here somehow, when one might think it would be in the corridor between New York and New Jersey.

He had a tough childhood, being sent off to an orphanage in Ukiah run by Dominican nuns. But there are a lot of people from similar backgrounds who do not make their mark—there was always something about Kevin that showed determination. He went to Saint Ignatius High School and at first he was having trouble reading, but a Jesuit priest took him in hand and bought him glasses, which was an important event in his life.

His last project was the history of the Catholic Church in the United States—he did one volume, Continental Ambitions, and it would have been a masterpiece if he’d been able to do the three that were contemplated. But it was not to be.

His faith was profoundly personal, and he was a daily communicant at St. Dominic’s Church.

He was involved in politics, too, first as a commissar of sorts, including speechwriting, for [former Mayor] Joseph Alioto. During his [unsuccessful] run for Supervisor in 1984, I stood on one corner of Bush Street and he on the other, passing out leaflets that said, “Kevin Starr for San Francisco Supervisor.’’

One of the many remarkable things about Kevin was his generosity—if you had an article that you wanted to publish, or help with a book, or needed a recommendation, he was always generous with his time and energy.

I miss him terribly—it was a warm friendship for many years. He’s definitely one of the people I’d have on my desert island. He was a great conversationalist, always bubbling with ideas. It was a big loss.

Kathy Nibbi

Kathleen Carroll Nibbi’s untimely death last July at 72 after a brave struggle with cancer was a deep loss not just to her family—including husband Larry and their three daughters, Gina, Michelle and Amy—but to the friends whose lives she enriched.

Her tireless work on behalf of the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford exemplified the giving spirit she embodied. As a wife, mother, grandmother and cook whose generous dinners were occasions of warmth and celebration for the many people in her extended family, Nibbi—known as “Lala” to her grandsons, Daniel, Joseph and Timothy—was a presence no one who knew her will ever forget.

Her husband, Larry Nibbi, a second-generation San Franciscan and noted general contractor, remembers his high school sweetheart and wife of five decades:

I attended Riordan High School. Kathy was going to Mercy High School, and we met at a Riordan dance in 1962. I didn’t ask for her phone number that night, but I was interested in finding out more about her. I got her number a couple of weeks later from a mutual friend and asked her out. Actually, she turned me down the first time; I think she was seeing someone else.

But I was persistent and finally convinced her to go to the movies at the West Portal Theatre. She lived near there and I lived out in the Excelsior district. There used to be a place called the Viennese Coffee Shop on the lower level of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, so we went there after the movie for a hot fudge sundae. Then we started dating regularly—at that time, they called it “going steady.” I remember giving her my class ring. It was too big, so she put little pieces of tape inside, cut very neatly, so it would fit on her finger.

After we graduated from high school, I went to City College for a year, and then USF, and she was going to Lone Mountain. We got married at St. Brendan’s Church in 1967. It was a one-bedroom apartment, and when our first daughter, Gina, was born in ’69, it was getting a little crowded. I was building a new home in Millbrae, so we moved there the next year. In 1979, I built a house in Hillsborough that we moved into, and we’re still there.

My mother cooked pretty much all-Italian meals; her mother was Dutch-English, so they cooked more American food. Kathy learned to cook at an early age, because her mother was a nurse who worked many evenings, and she had five younger brothers she had to take care of. She really honed her skills and became a very, very well-versed student of the culinary arts.

The Museo Italo Americano in Fort Mason has an annual Pasta Cook-Off Contest. It’s a fundraiser with celebrities, and all that. She made pasta square with her own special ingredients and won first prize.

She also got involved in charity work through a mutual friend of ours, Stella Armanino, who invited her to join the San Francisco Auxiliary of Lucile Packard Hospital, which provides funds for children in need of medical care. They have an annual event called the Jewel Ball, and she ended up being the chair of that twice, as well as being the president of the Auxiliary Board for three years.

Aside from the events, she would go down to the hospital as a volunteer to help out. They have these little red wagons that they take the kids around the hospital in—so they’re not just lying in their rooms—and Kathy enjoyed helping out with that.

I got involved with the San Francisco Giants in ’92, when they were going to move the team to St. Petersburg. A group of us got together to buy the team from Bob LurieLarry Baer, Peter Magowan, Walter Shorenstein and myself, among others. We felt that if [the Giants] left, we would probably not get another team in San Francisco. We were good friends with the Luries, and Kathy and I would go to Phoenix, which is where they had spring training at the time, and we’d stay at the same hotel as [Bob Lurie and wife, Connie] and the team.

Connie Lurie called me about six months ago, and said they had an opportunity to name the community kitchen at the St. Francis Center in Redwood City the “Kathy Nibbi Kitchen.’’ It was a way to honor Kathy and her passion for cooking for others, and we deeply appreciated it.

She always made her pasta from scratch. In fact, I still have her pasta machine up on the counter. I haven’t taken it down. And she especially loved to cook for our grandchildren. In fact, when our youngest grandson made his Christmas list for Santa Claus, he asked for one of Lala’s chocolate cakes.  

Bill Goldman

His name was William Sachs Goldman, but friends and family called him “Bill.” When the 38-year-old died in a small plane crash in Sonoma County last July, Goldman—grandson of San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman—had carved his own path as an assistant professor of international studies at USF, an ardent Giants fan and a devoted family man. He was also a strong believer in social justice, serving as treasurer of the New Israel Fund, a nonprofit working for democracy and civil rights in Israel. He also co-founded the Richard W. Goldman Foundation, in honor of his late father, to help disadvantaged children by increasing access to education, health and financial resources.

His wife, attorney Serra Falk Goldman, remembers him:

Bill grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended the Sidwell Friends School there from kindergarten to high school. He went on to Yale, where he worked as a photographer, shooting sports for the Yale Daily News and majored in history. He always knew he wanted to be a history professor. He came to UC Berkeley for his graduate work, and we met at a dinner party.

We often joked that it definitely clicked for him before it did for me. He’s a very persistent person, so it took a while until I decided that I wanted to go out with him. The third time he called, I finally said, “OK.” Our first date was at the Nob Hill Café.

He proposed a year later, but this time I didn’t make him wait. … I figured I couldn’t keep playing that game.
His thesis was a political history of Spain in the 15th and 16th century. He was a Fulbright Scholar, so we went to Spain for his research and lived in Valladolid, a small provincial capital.

He taught at Stanford and had been a research fellow at UCLA before teaching at USF. He loved sharing his knowledge, and had a fabulous sense of humor that students really appreciated. He taught classes about “The World Since 1945,” the European Union and diplomacy—which was the one all the students really wanted to be in. He challenged them on how to make your points while still being an effective communicator.

He was extremely involved in President Obama’s campaign—everything from donating to knocking on doors. He was fluent in Spanish, so he traveled to places like Nevada where that was needed.

I think he ultimately met Obama, but that wasn’t a priority. He didn’t need the fanfare, or thanks for donations. That wasn’t what it was about. He felt very fortunate for what he had—not just the money, but the resources, and the loving family. He felt a huge obligation to help others who didn’t have those advantages.

He was heavily involved with Angels Flight West, a charity that transports critically ill patients. He would usually fly through rural parts of California— frequently Humboldt County, or central California, and fly sick kids to Stanford or Oakland Children’s Hospital for treatment. Otherwise their parents might have to spend a whole day on a bus, or find somebody else to take them or miss work. It showed him a lot about healthcare in America. If our kids got the sniffles, we could take them to the hospital in two seconds. Not every family has that privilege. I’m sure he’s rolling over in his grave about what’s going on with healthcare now—he’d be beside himself.

Rather than spend a night on the town, his first choice would be for us to just cook dinner at home, have a good Manhattan, and discuss everything that was going on in the world while watching a Giants game.

I didn’t write Bill’s obituary because I was in the hospital with my kids, but as my son said, ‘That’s not who I knew. I hope people remember the things that Poppy did.” Tickle fights, balloon fights and going to Giants games as a family. That’s what he remembers.

We took our kids to protests. I have probably the only 8-year-old who can name all the Supreme Court justices. There were celebrations in our house when healthcare and gay marriage were upheld.

He posted some of his political blogs on Medium, for people like me who aren’t on Facebook, including this quote that resonated with many people after the election: “Now is our moment to demonstrate the courage of our convictions, to push back constantly against the wave of darkness, to prove over and over that our world is better than this. It will not be fun. It will not be easy. But it will be done. Let us escape from our complacent lives, let us overcome our fear and terror. Let us give our lives a lasting meaning beyond what we believed possible.”

Richard Stephens

Not all educators are good businessmen. And most patrons of the arts are not famous for their practical skills. The career of Richard A. Stephens, longtime president of the Academy of Art University, belies stereotypes. When Stephens died last June at 92, he left behind a thriving—if sometimes controversial— institution, which he’d built from humble roots at a Kearny Street loft to a successful for-profit school that is also one of the largest landowners in San Francisco.

The son of Richard S. and Clara Stephens, he spent his early childhood in Paris, where his father studied art. The family returned to San Francisco in 1929, after which his father, the creative director for Sunset magazine, founded the then-named Academie of Advertising Art.

Stephens, a Stanford graduate, took over the school in 1951. Enrollment grew from 35 students to 18,000. He expanded the curriculum to encompass fashion, photography, illustration, fine art, graphic design, industrial design, interior architecture and design, animation, motion pictures and television. A classic car collector, he took particular pleasure in the University Automobile Museum on Van Ness Avenue and the school’s automotive design program.

His daughter Elisa Stephens, who succeeded him as the Academy’s president in 1992, recalls memories of her father to the Gazette:

He was always optimistic. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or that things should be better, I think of how positive he was. He always told me, “Never forget where you came from. Don’t lose sight of that. Humble beginnings. Take one step every day. Keep working. Don’t quit.”

His dream had always been to have a car design program in San Francisco. He thought people didn’t understand that car design originated in the United States, [nor appreciated] the work that went into building something with integrity that was meant to last. He started the classic car museum so students could understand what went into the design and thereby improve their own work.

When I was growing up, he had a great Jaguar, white with red interiors. I remember tooling around in that, and the smell of the leather seats. Saturdays and Sundays my brother and I would each get a wire wheel to clean, and then just when we’d get one done, he’d motivate us to do another! We were so little, we didn’t understand there were four.

The most important educational value he taught me was that you have to inspire creative people. Some people work for money. Some people work for God. Some people work for God and money. But when it comes to an artist, or a writer, they do it because they’re inspired. One of the last things he said to me—and this is part of the value system of the school—was “Elisa, be kind.”

Mayor Ed Lee

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s sudden death of a heart attack in December at the age of 65 was a bittersweet end to a year already marked by too much pain and suffering.The inconvenient truth about Lee, who spent too much of his time in office being demonized for perceived sins, is that he was a decent man doing the best he could every day in a notoriously difficult job. You didn’t have to agree with all his decisions, but it was hard to find fault with his good intentions.

As Willie Brown noted in his San Francisco Chronicle column after the death of his longtime friend: “When I was in City Hall, I didn’t think homelessness was solvable. But Ed really believed he could fix it.”

He is remembered here by longtime rock ’n’ roll scribe Ben Fong-Torres; Dale Minami, a San Francisco lawyer who supported Lee in 1978 during the rent strike at the Ping Yuen public housing project in Chinatown; and Claudine Wong, the longtime KTVU reporter who covered Lee’s career.

Ben Fong-Torres: Role models are so important. For so many years, Chinese-Americans had no representation at City Hall. We would take pride when someone showed up on the Board of Supervisors, but that was usually by appointment, not election. So to have Ed Lee win City Hall twice was special.

He went from being an activist attorney to joining the system, as a Mr. Fix-It in the Department of Public Works and later as City Administrator. The Chronicle used to have a feature called “What’s Not Working,” or something like that—taking note of problems readers found in the streets of San Francisco. Ed was always the person who was [suggested] to call, and I’d see him in the community, changing street signs and other projects, always with a smile on his face.

Reading about his upbringing, I wish we’d had the occasion to have a longer chat. He and I were born seven years apart. I’m older, but we both were part of big immigrant families. He had five siblings; I had four. We each had a father who was a cook and a mother who worked at a garment factory. We would have related.

All that’s been said about him—as someone who was more of the people than about politics—is true. He didn’t have Willie or Gavin or Dianne Feinstein’s way with words, and he wasn’t out at clubs or restaurants every night, but it was always good to run into him, whether that was at the HealthRIGHT 360 building in the Mission, or at the Chinese New Year or Cherry Blossom parades.

After years of more dashing or more dapper mayors like Gavin and Willie, even going back to George Moscone or Feinstein, he was certainly a contrast. But only people who think superficially would denigrate him for not being like them. All he could be was Ed Lee, and that was quite enough.

Dale Minami: We met when he was a law student at UC Berkeley, where he was involved in a strike to oppose plans to eliminate affirmative action there. I was a few years older, and we recruited him to work with the Asian Law Caucus on the rent strike at the Ping Yuen project. The tenants were being treated horribly. They had no hot water and there were vermin—rats, mice and cockroaches. The city was not taking care of the building at all; it was left in disrepair.

At one point a young woman was raped and thrown off the building. She died, and that catalyzed the tenants. Ed helped organize the first rent strike in San Francisco history. They sued, and the city finally agreed to the demands of the tenants, with Ed as their representative, to upgrade the projects into normal conditions.

San Francisco had never had a rent strike before, and this was for a community that had been marginalized and not treated with the greatest respect by San Franciscans and their political leaders. Ed was really committed to the cause. It helped that he was one of them. He grew up in public housing in Seattle, and it helped that he was bilingual and was therefore able to communicate with the tenants.

He was the perfect person at the right time—he was smart, tough and had something in common with them. I remember I had arguments with Ed at the time because I thought he should step back and just let the tenants organize themselves. … They needed an infrastructure. But Ed was always civil and treated you with respect. It never got personal. The fact that he had a great sense of humor also helped.

Throughout his career, he was always involved in issues to improve housing, but he also worked on desegregating the San Francisco police and fire departments, increasing the number of people of color who were able to join the ranks.

When he joined the government [working as a whistleblower investigator, Deputy Employment Relations Director and Human Rights Commission Director under former Mayor Art Agnos], it seemed ironic, or contradictory. But Ed always had a vision: to improve and make San Francisco a better place to live for all people. So whether he did that by fighting the city, or serving the city, it was the same vision.

I know he was criticized as mayor for being too close to the moneyed interests, but that was a result of the problems in this city that are symptomatic of the national problems of disparity of income, and the divide between rich and poor. He was certainly not responsible for the fact that the problem existed.

Again, he got criticism about the tax break for Twitter, but at that point Market Street was dying. It had deteriorated, and bringing tech in was his idea for garnering money and being able to provide better services for the homeless, and nonprofits, which is something he was very committed to.

In terms of him being a role model, there’s a whole generation of Asian-American politicians who have come up, like Assemblymen Phil Ting and David Chiu, Supervisors Katy Tang and Jane Kim—a whole new generation who have come into power. He was symbolically fulfilling the aspirations of all Asian-Americans to have a seat at the table by becoming the mayor of a major city.

In terms of his personal life, he was not someone who cared about status. When he played golf, it was not with the power brokers and it was often at places like Harding golf course. It didn’t have to be fancy. The thing about Ed was, when he made friends he stayed with them, even if they were from many, many years ago.

Claudine Wong: I grew up in San Francisco. Ed was of course very involved in the tenants’ strike at Ping Yuen. I knew about it because my grandparents lived there.

It was remarkable that this understated man was such a strong fighter for tenants’ rights, which is never a Kumbaya session. I remember Gordon Chin [Chinatown activist and affordable housing leader] saying he couldn’t remember Ed ever losing his temper. That in itself was impressive—the fact that he could manage all these personalities and cultural differences. You knew what side he stood for, but he wasn’t necessarily demonizing the other side, which is extremely rare.

When I saw him at the Chinatown parades, people would ask him how it felt to be there as the first Chinese-American mayor. He always said, “That’s great, but look at how diverse the whole community is. I see all these faces from different backgrounds.”

At the time, they were initially trying to get him to run for mayor in 2011 and MC Hammer did that video [“Ed Lee is 2 LEGIT 2  QUIT”]. It seemed funny and appealing [but] he wasn’t sure he wanted the job. Maybe that made him the best suited for it.

Gordon Chin also used to say that if Ed hadn’t become mayor, [he] would have been more vocal. But when he joined the establishment he had fought in the past, it was a testament to him that he took that seriously as well—to try to work for change from within. But if he hadn’t been mayor, I think he would have been part of the Resistance.  

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