Personalities

The Epitome of Politesse

By Anh-Minh Le

Tryon, born in San Francisco and raised in Los Altos Hills, strikes a pose at the historic Filoli Estate in Woodside. She wears a custom dress by Ellen Wise Couture. (Photo by Spencer Brown; hair and makeup by Maya Roget)

Deanna Tryon was 10 years old when the idea of a career in protocol was planted in her mind. And by none other than Shirley Temple Black— the late movie star turned diplomat, who held the position of chief of protocol of the United States as well as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

While a fifth grader at Bullis-Purissima Elementary School in Los Altos Hills, Tryon was assigned to write a report about a celebrity. She chose Temple Black, a longtime Woodside resident and acquaintance of her grandmother, Lilyann Brannon, who arranged for a phone interview. “She asked me about myself — what I liked to do and what I liked to read,” recalls Tryon of the conversation, during which she told Temple Black about a book Brannon had recently given her: Emily Post’s Etiquette. “I wanted to learn all the rules and do everything right. And she said, ‘You would make a great chief of protocol.’ … That was always in the back of my mind.”

Flash-forward several decades and Temple Black’s words proved prophetic: In 2014, Tryon was named the inaugural Silicon Valley chief of protocol (siliconvalleyprotocol.com). Her path to the post — and back to her hometown — included a few divergences, however. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Francisco and a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, her initial plan was to get a job at the United Nations in New York. But romance propelled her in a different direction. “I was dating this guy and he was getting his band back together and he was moving to Los Angeles,” she explains with a laugh. (The guy was Rivers Cuomo, and the band was Weezer.)

In Southern California, Tryon worked in the City of Los Angeles Office of Protocol. She was a management analyst for the city of Beverly Hills and a City Council deputy in L.A. She then spent many years in the Los Angeles County Office of Protocol. There were also side gigs along the way — like the bit parts on soap operas and sitcoms. “People still call when they see me slap Neil Patrick Harris on reruns of How I Met Your Mother!” she says. After coming into possession of a Hollywood socialite’s diaries from the 1920s through 1950s, Tryon began writing a book based on them (that project is on the back burner).

“WE HAVE SHOWN THAT WE RESPECT DIVERSE CULTURES AND CUSTOMS.”

— Deanna Tryon, on her outreach as Silicon Valley chief of protocol

Government and public service are in Tryon’s DNA, though, and her interest in such matters never wavered. Her mother, Barbara Tryon Cobarruviaz, was on the Los Altos Hills City Council and served as mayor for two terms. Going further back in her family history, Brannon was an environmental activist who “started feeding the homeless in St. James Park in San Jose out of the back of her station wagon with my grandfather,” Tryon remembers. Brannon was also a nearly employee at Apple — among her roles there, she was Steve Jobs’ secretary — and, according to Tryon, “her Apple stock has gone to good use” supporting the working poor in the Bay Area.

 When Tryon was recruited to be Silicon Valley chief of protocol, she was ready to return home. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help create this office,” she says. Tryon and her team aid 44 cities across five counties — San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz and Alameda — in “dealing with increasing numbers of high-level delegation visits to the region. We are truly bringing people together through a growing network of contacts in business, government and the international community.”

Tryon has established relationships with local companies, big and small, to facilitate visits to their headquarters. (Google, Facebook, Tesla and Twitter are the most requested.) In May she assisted in arranging a State Department tour of Silicon Valley for journalists from publications world-wide. Early on in her tenure, she handled the red-carpet welcome at San Jose airport for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. She has coordinated security for the Portuguese foreign minister, ambassador and consul general and recently dealt with a request from the South Korean Embassy (on her day off, no less).

“We have helped make visitors feel welcome and wanted here,” says Tryon, whose office develops briefings that outline the etiquette and traditions of other countries. “We have shown that we respect diverse cultures and customs, and that we are eager to learn more about them.

Since her appointment five years ago, Tryon hasn’t had to look far for a role model. “Charlotte Shultz has always been incredibly generous with her time and advice, and is a shining example of what a chief of protocol should be,” Tryon says of her counterpart in SanFrancisco. “She is warm, welcoming, puts people at ease, and has provided an example to me of how to handle protocol situations. I often ask myself, What would Charlotte do?”

Of course, Tryon can tap into her own professional experiences, too, even those outside of government.

“As I look back on my career, I realize that every step has prepared me for this wonderful position,” she says, noting that her time on television production sets taught her how to appear poised in stressful situations. “Being in my hometown makes it even more special. Silicon Valley is now the global center of innovation and technology, and I am very lucky to be here.”

Deanna’s Do’s and Dont’s

✓ Do check multiple sources when researching customs and cultures online.

✗ Don’t use slang terms, which may be misunderstood.

✓ Do be sensitive to varying notions of personal space.

✗ Don’t chew gum or whistle.

✓ Do pay attention to names, making an extra effort to pronounce them correctly.

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