Dark-haired, attractive and petite, Delia Ehrlich, with her chic, short, swept-back hair, welcomes me to her home and wastes no time in ensuring I have something to drink. Her welcome is more than words. It’s action. Her warmth is more than posture. It’s real.
Delia Fleishhacker Ehrlich, San Francisco legend, third-generation San Franciscan — whose great-grandfather, founded the Crown Paper Co., now known as Crown-Willamette Paper Co., and Great Western Power, which later became Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and whose grandfather, Mortimer, renowned banker and philanthropist, built the family’s iconic 75-acre Woodside estate, "Green Gables," established what became the United Way of the Bay Area, and initiated scores of other philanthropic institutions — is as direct as sunshine, as clear as glass.
Refreshing. Upbeat. Ebullient. It’s easy to call her Delia.
"The Fleishhacker/Choynski families go way back. There’s always been a strong sense of community inbred in us."
Indeed. For almost three generations, almost every major artistic, educational and philanthropic organization in the Bay Area has had its share of support and leadership from her families, from the San Francisco Symphony to the Opera, to theater, arts, University of California, zoo, even the largest saltwater swimming pool in the world.
"I had fabulous parents. Their reward was community service. I feel at home serving on so many committees." Delia’s father, Mortimer Jr., ran the family foundation, the Fleishhacker Trust, was involved in the formation of KQED and SPUR and helped establish the American Conservatory Theatre. Her mother, Janet Choynski Fleishhacker, also highly recognized for her volunteer work, was president of the National Campfire Girls, among many other organizations.
Delia has two brothers, both involved in community service, and four children. After heading east to attend Bryn Mawr, one of the original "Seven Sisters" Ivy League liberal arts colleges, Delia met and married John Ehrlich. When the marriage ended, she found herself building a new career.
"I was determined to succeed."
Delia established the Personal Shopping Service — "Macy’s by Appointment" — and ran Macy’s Community Relations Department in seven states for 11 years. "That taught me a lot." She involved key leaders in communities with philanthropic missions. She was responsible for Macy’s Volunteer Program, interacted with "the best people" in every city, and helped establish and expand Macy’s Passport.
She maintained her involvement in San Francisco volunteering, from the San Francisco Opera, civil grand jury, Coro Foundation for Leadership, to the board of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music — for which she recently hosted a major fundraising luncheon — the Magic Theatre, ARCS and many more.
Delia divides the year between two homes, one in San Francisco and the other on the estate in Woodside, the development rights of which are deeded to the Garden Conservancy. "As children, we’d go down there every summer. Take off our shoes — six of us, three cousins and the three of us — no TV, no electronics. We made up things to do, games, plays, rode horses. It was that kind of a childhood. We entertained ourselves. With 75 acres it was easy to find something to do. Swimming — a lot of swimming. Running around. We could walk to town. My grandfather took us to the creamery to have double-dip ice cream."
In San Francisco, her residence is a light-filled, high-ceilinged aerie with views from Bay to The City to Marin County. Palest light mint walls sing in a medley of tones of greens, golds and earth hues. Rooms spill off a long hall that houses a significant collection of tiny jewel and ceramic boxes from around the world. The pastel portrait of her mother, Janet, completed years before the family retrieved it from the original artist in Paris, hangs in the living room. From her capacious bedroom, Delia can see all of Marin County and the Bay. It’s a home that has humanity and family as its hallmarks.
Lord Acton said: "To be able to look back upon one’s past life with satisfaction is to live twice." Perhaps Delia would have added a bit from Steven H. Cougler, "Seek respect mainly from thyself, for it comes first from within."
Delia Ehrlich’s Woodside home will be featured in an upcoming edition.