Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay: Fare The Well

by Catherine Bigelow

Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay
Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay

The December 3 death of Charlotte Mailliard Shultz — the beloved and eminently talented San Francisco Chief of Protocol who reigned for more than half a century in City Hall Room 200 and later served the state — broke hearts here and around the world.

At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, at Grace Cathedral — another institution to which she was a devoted trustee and where she wed the love of her life, the late former Secretary of State George P. Shultz — a public memorial will celebrate the storied life and dazzling accomplishments of Charlotte Shultz, our irreplaceable civic cheerleader. An unpaid, unelected City Hall “volunteer,” Shultz faithfully served — with great distinction and, always, joie de vivre — 10 San Francisco mayors, beginning with the late John Shelley to current Mayor London Breed.

Although Shultz would never admit it in life, it’s a safe bet now to reveal that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Da Mayor Willie Brown were two of her favorite “bosses.” Treasured friends — Feinstein introduced Shultz to “her Secretary” and Brown was her devoted BFF (both grateful expats from small Texas towns) — they joined and encouraged Shultz on the numerous zany and joyful civic capers she dreamed up to promote her adopted, treasured city of little cable cars.

From saving those historic wood-paneled beauties to planning citywide championship parades for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers to reviving the San Francisco Symphony’s famed Black & White Ball, Shultz was also skilled at making international friends. She managed the robust San Francisco Consular Corps and forged business and cultural bonds by growing our sister-city relationships with locales such as Cork, Ireland; Haifa, Israel; and Paris, France.

It was often Shultz, in signature style suited to a country’s flag, who officially welcomed popes, presidents and Queen Elizabeth II — for whom Shultz organized Her Majesty’s first-ever restaurant dinner at the old Trader Vic’s in 1983. That delightful visit was recognized when the Queen named Shultz an Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

The late legendary philanthropists Nancy Bechtle and San Francisco Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz were the cochairs of the 2018 SFMOMA Modern Ball, which raised $4 million for the museum. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

A public memorial will celebrate the storied life and dazzling accomplishments of Charlotte Shultz, our irreplaceable civic cheerleader. An unpaid City Hall “volunteer,” Shultz faithfully served — with great distinction and joie de vivre — 10 San Francisco mayors.

Shultz defied her chronological age. And in salute, we shall demur mentioning that number herein. Yet to humbly paraphrase Shakespeare, who in Hamlet eloquently penned a poignant “fare thee well” on the loss of his irreplaceable father: She was a great human being. She was perfect in everything. I’ll never see the likes of her again.

Shultz’s passing hit the City especially hard, as it was only one month prior — on November 3 — that NancyHellman Bechtle died. This philanthropic pillar of San Francisco society and bluegrass devotee was also a protector of the Presidio, which she helped transform into a national park. She and Shultz were dear friends and civic co-conspirators, notably creating the 75th-anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2012.

Sadly, the new year brought another great loss with the death of John Arrillaga Sr. on January 24. The real estate developer and major philanthropist, born to a working-class family, transformed Silicon Valley into what it is now. He also remained one of the most stalwart, generous Cardinal fans to his alma mater, Stanford University — contributing to more than 200 campus projects, including funding and spearheading construction of Maples Pavilion and a new football stadium.

Reflecting on the past two years, we’ve endured our share of heartache — not only with the pandemic, but also with the demise, in quick succession, of a swath of local legends, philanthropists and artists. Among them, Woodside’s Anita Fay, nicknamed “the Bride” by her cherished late husband, Paul “Red” Fay Jr.; former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, LGBTQ activist and arts advocate James Hormel; lawyer–Renaissance man George Hellyer and his husband, artist and merry pied piper Ira Yeager; Beatrice “Bea” Bowles, a fifth-gen San Franciscan and debutante who turned her focus to art, writing and the environment, as well as vying for most-fun grandma and expert tango dancer. And too young, at just 64, we lost Kevin King, a YBCA trustee and former Grabhorn Institute board chairman — himself a gifted artist, creator and instigator of Bohemian Grove hijinks.

Perhaps a fitting way to honor Shultz and myriad dearly departed friends can be found in King’s daily ritual: Every morning, he asked himself, “What good shall I do today?”

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