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Appreciation: Ann Getty

By Catherine Bigelow

Ann Getty pictured in 2009. (Drew Altizer Photography)

A generous spirit known for her creativity, philanthropy and passion for the arts

It’s surreal, even painful, to type the word “was” in relation to philanthropist and interior designer Ann Gilbert Getty, who died September 14.

Ann Getty was generous. She was glamorous. Brilliant of mind and funny. And a dedicated arts patron. She also championed the Democratic cause — fundraising for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Governor Gavin Newsom and vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris at her Gold Coast manse. Over the years, Getty hosted so many impeccable dinners honoring international cultural poobahs, that the late columnist Herb Caen dubbed her residence “San Francisco’s Embassy.”

“Ann was the empress of San Francisco,” says Boaz Mazor, long-time Oscar de la Renta sales director. “In the ’80s, the City had an era of grandeur that was defined by Ann.”

For 56 years, Getty was the loyal partner to her husband, philanthropist and composer Gordon, son of industrialist J. Paul Getty and a scion to the Getty Oil fortune. Though annually ranked on Forbes’ billionaires list, the couple was characterized by marked modesty.

Getty was born March 11, 1941, in Gustine, California (Merced County). She was raised in Wheatland, where her European immigrant parents built a peach and walnut farm. Her love of the land inspired anthropology studies at UC Berkeley, and later, archeological digs in the dirt of Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley hunting for million-year-old fossils.

With Ann Getty, there was never pretension. Or gossip. She preferred high-minded discourse: climate change, art, music or world politics. But she was a sly wit who also loved to laugh.

Though she draped her tall, elegant frame in exquisite haute couture, Getty was shy amid large crowds at the San Francisco Symphony Gala or Opera Ball. “Mrs. G,” as friends called her, more often demurred from society snaps to shift the limelight to her musically minded husband.

The Gettys were more at home, at home — dressed down in jeans amid their museum-quality collection of European art, antiques and period furniture, aristocratically thread-bare. And guests were always welcome to plop atop a double-sided, velvet-and-silk settee formerly owned by Ann’s pal, ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

Widely admired for her unique design vision, Getty worked informally with friends before establishing Ann Getty & Associates in 1995. In 2003, she launched the Ann Getty House Collection featuring her “fauxgerys” — handcrafted replicas of pieces from her personal collection.

“Ann was erudite in her design: She knew the history of every era and every piece she purchased. She adeptly mixed styles with elaborate simplicity,” notes event designer Stanlee Gatti. “But what I loved most about Ann?The way to her heart was giving her the latest science book, because her favorite dinner guest was always a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.”

Yes, there were also Getty’s epic parties — grand, glorious and festive affairs. Especially her legendary 700-person Christmas fêtes celebrating the December birthdays of Gordon and their granddaughter, Ivy Getty.

Getty equally enjoyed hosting a coterie of decades long friends in the family’s Box 35 at Oracle Park, cheering on their beloved Giants.

Getty died following a small family Sunday supper at home, a tradition she cherished.

Ann was predeceased by her son, Andrew Getty, and brothers William Gilbert and Jack Gilbert.

She is survived by her husband; their sons, Peter (Shannon) Getty, John Getty and Billy (Vanessa) Getty; grandchildren Ivy Getty; Nicholas, Alexander and Veronica Getty; Ava and Dexter Getty; dear friend Jo Schuman Silver and devoted niece, Beth Townsend.

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