August 22, 1931 – August 15, 2021
The death of Lois Lehrman on August 15 reverberated through the City she chronicled — and championed — as the longtime former publisher-owner of the Nob Hill Gazette.
“Lois was a self-made woman and a lioness of a mother,” says her daughter, Mindy Lehrman Cameron, an artist who created some of the Gazette’s most dazzling covers. “My big brother and I were the king and queen of her universe. She taught us that nothing in life is impossible to achieve.”
In the early 1980s, that same mantra propelled Lehrman to not only scale the heights of San Francisco society but also establish herself as its arbiter, deciding which blue-blood or newly minted millionaire made the cut in her glossy monthly magazine covering their feats and and black-tie fetes.
“During her years at the helm of the Nob Hill Gazette, Lois’ influence spanned many different arenas beyond the pages of the paper, most especially her great promotion of so many wonderful philanthropic causes,” notes San Francisco Chief of Protocol Charlotte Mailliard Shultz in a Gazette tribute to Lehrman published a few years ago.
“Lois became as important to those of us who were after votes as any neighborhood newspaper,” acknowledges former Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr.
In 2016, following a stellar 30-year run as the Gazette’s owner, Lehrman sold her cherished and thriving publication to Clint Reilly and his journalist wife, Janet Reilly. But in true Lois fashion, she continued to provide suggestions and critiques.
Lois Kotler was born August 22, 1931, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She and her sister were raised by their parents: Pearl, founder of a women’s dance school where she’d design each costume and choreograph every number; Harry, a small-town but dedicated lawyer, often accepting a bushel of corn in lieu of payment for his services.
Lehrman briefly attended Syracuse University, but, recalls her daughter, “she hated it.” Lehrman then moved to Manhattan to study early childhood education at New York University. “But when she found herself in a circle with other students, shaking a tambourine, Mom thought, ‘What am I doing?’”
By 23, Lehrman was raising two young children, Mindy and Paul, in a marriage that soon ended in divorce. A single mother, she dove into the male-dominated workforce — first in real estate, then selling life insurance as the first female broker for J.I. Kislak before landing as an ad saleswoman for two Gannett newspapers, the Jewish Federation and the Catholic Star Herald.
“Lois was born Jewish,” explains her daughter. “But neither publication minded because she was so talented at selling their ads.”
After a long courtship with her second husband, Gene Lehrman, the couple finally wed and moved in 1978 to San Francisco, where Gene served as a vice president with the Gap.
But the hard-charging Lehrman was not used to not working — and had her eye out for something interesting. She clocked a brief stint at the San Francisco Progress newspaper. Then one afternoon in the lobby of the Stanford Court Hotel, Lehrman came across a copy of the Nob Hill Gazette.
Founded in 1978 by society raconteur and generational San Francisco scion Gardner Mein, his mimeographed Nob Hill Gazette — a black-and-white, four-page folded newsletter produced in his office atop the then-rickety Pier 5 maritime shed along The Embarcadero — gaily chronicled the shenanigans of his boldfaced milieu.
But Lehrman saw something more. In 1981, she cold-called Mein, offering her ad-sales expertise to beef up his pamphlet.
As Mein’s advertising director, she quickly acquired a sales staff of her own while deftly growing the publication from four pages to its distinctive oversize four-color format.
In 1986, Lehrman purchased the Gazette from Mein — and caught hold of the tailwind that propelled that go-go 1980s era of lunching ladies and prodigious shoulder pads who were embodied by duchesses, Oscar de la Renta and debutantes.
Yet Lehrman was no aspirant of engraved invitations. She was a savvy businesswoman. A marketing wizard. Following her divorce, she was again a single working mom. Lehrman mentored numerous young women as writers, editors and salespeople. But this Jersey gal always hewed true to her humble roots: her wry wit, compassion and, sometimes, ribald humor dazzled all.
Lehrman was comfortable at the opulent society functions the Gazette covered, but ultimately, notes longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, “she was a hardworking businesswoman and she put on no airs.” Adds Garchik: “No matter what the surroundings, no matter how sumptuous the scenery and the players, Lois always played her own role: a woman bold enough to be herself.”
Lehrman’s presence at parties, however, created quite a buzz, recalls Lehrman’s good friend, performer Franc D’Ambrosio. “Lois was San Francisco’s Sophia Loren. She just got more beautiful and more elegant and more eloquent with age,” he notes, adding, “I am honored and blessed to have been her dear friend for the past 25 years.”
“She was an amazing, protective and inspiring force for me and my brother,” says Cameron. “But Mom shared that same care with so many causes and people in her life by being generous, accessible, charming and helping other women succeed in the publishing world.”
Gazette Director of Operations and Partnerships Jill Pietrowiak experienced that generosity firsthand, noting, “I was given the incredible gift of having Lois as my mentor. I remember the first day we met for lunch at the Fairmont Hotel. She assured me I could do the job as associate publisher with her guidance. Before we’d arrive for an event, she’d go over what to expect and share the many lessons she learned over the years as publisher of the Gazette. She was always brutally honest, and everyone loved and respected her for that. She was one of the most intelligent and wittiest people I’ve ever known.”
Lehrman’s longtime friend Elisa Stephens, president of the Academy of Art University, echoes: “Her beauty was only overshadowed by her wit and brain. Many a conversation with Lois left us in stitches, or informed us of subjects large and small. She wove a tapestry of San Francisco life, enjoyed by all who lived in the City by the Bay.”
This issue of the Nob Hill Gazette is dedicated to Lois.