Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, San Francisco’s longest serving chief of protocol, has died

‘Her warmth and verve are irreplaceable.’

Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, who reigned as San Francisco’s chief of protocol for more than half a century, died Friday of complications from cancer surrounded by loved ones at her Stanford University residence. As a “volunteer” public official, she faithfully served 10 mayors, ranging from John “Jack” Shelley to current Mayor London Breed. She was 88.

Yet Charlotte defied her chronological age. In our memories, she will remain timeless: a beauteous blonde civic cheerleader who joyfully bubbled like a coupe overflowing with fine, effervescent Champagne.

Designer Stanlee Gatti, a dear friend, confirmed her passing Friday morning. By noon, Breed lowered the flags over City Hall to half staff in honor of Charlotte’sservice to San Francisco.

Her devotion to celebrating the best of her adopted city was legendary: organizing a campaign with then-mayor Dianne Feinstein to save the cable cars; assisting the Giants create three downtown World Series parades; dreaming up the Celebrity Bell Ringing event to increase holiday donations in red pots benefiting the Salvation Army; reviving San Francisco Symphony’s storied Black & White Ball and masterminding birthday tributes for the Golden Gate Bridge. While the bridge’s 50th birthday celebration almost flattened the span, the 75th Charlotte organized with her friend and fellow civic leader, the late Nancy Hellman Bechtle, went off with nary a wrinkle.

Charlotte was also an expert at coaxing funds from her friends. With her dear pal, former Mayor Willie Brown, they succeeded in commissioning a statue fronting the Fairmont Hotel honoring crooner Tony Bennett, who breached global stardom in the hotel’s Venetian Room. She also succeeded in renaming the Fairmont’s one block stretch of Mason Street as “Tony Bennett Way.”

“Charlotte’s impact on San Francisco was enormous. Through her efforts, some of which occurred during my tenure as mayor, we became a world-class city,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The Examiner. “Charlotte created exciting events that heads of state around the world wanted to attend. Those countries would send their top statesmen, knowing Charlotte would ensure they were well taken care of and expertly entertained. Thanks to the magic Charlotte made happen, San Francisco went from an also-ran city to top of the heap. Her warmth and verve are irreplaceable.”

Her enthusiastic civic adoration was only matched by the radiant love she shared with her late husband, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who died in February at the age of 100.

Their 25-year romance was sparked by Feinstein and her husband, financier Richard Blum. Following the death of Charlotte’s second husband, real estate magnate and Fairmont Hotel owner Mel Swig, Feinstein introduced the widowed singles.

“Charlotte and I shared a unique, wonderful friendship. I’m a Democrat and I suspect she was a Republican. But that had no ill effect on our long relationship,” Feinstein recalled. “Six months before their wedding at Grace Cathedral in 1997, I watched Charlotte and George dancing at an event. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow. Their relationship was definitely one of love at first sight.”

Up through her final weeks, Charlotte remained determined to attend the Dec. 9 War Memorial Board meeting with her fellow trustees, including current president Thomas Horn, who planned to appoint her as the board’s next president in 2022. And Charlotte was still finalizing details for her annual holiday party she co-hosts with the mayor to celebrate the San Francisco Consular Corps.

With great disappointment, she finally sent her regrets to both events.

“We connected in 1985 to create decor for the symphony’s revamped Black & White Ball. She was always vibrant, delightful and she never met a stranger,” said Gatti, a decades-long friend. “I will miss Charlotte dearly as a close friend and collaborator. These last few years in San Francisco we’ve already lost so much. But what I mourn the most is, Charlotte’s passing feels like the final blow.”

High atop Russian Hill, in her double penthouse lined with 180-degree glass wall views overlooking downtown and the Bay Bridge then sweeping across to the sparkling Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, Charlotte was a gracious, inimitable host of countless soirees. For every occasion, she designed an appropriate theme which also informed the invitations, musicians, decor, costumed performers, bountiful bars, buffets and engraved guest gifts from Gump’s.

But like her late husband, Charlotte was also a skilled diplomat effectively charming royalty, heads of state, renowned opera singers, tech titans or global ambassadors. In those missions, Charlotte achieved the goal enshrined in her heart: showcasing the beauty, talent and diversity of her beloved San Francisco.

Charlotte Ann Smith was born Sept. 26, 1933 in Borger, Texas, a small panhandle town where her parents ran the general store. Her mother was a talented seamstress who inspired her daughter to study merchandising and fashion design in Austin at the University of Texas. But when the family store burned down, Charlotte returned home to help while taking courses at junior college. While in Austin, Charlotte pledged the Delta Gamma sorority which, a year later, awarded her a scholarship that allowed her to complete her studies at the University of Arkansas.

After brief stints in Dallas and Los Angeles, Charlotte arrived in San Francisco in 1963 when a former classmate of one of Charlotte’s roommates suggested they all meet in the “middle of San Francisco.”

Unfamiliar with the City, Charlotte, in a 2017 interview with Gazette co-owner Janet Reilly explained that the center of San Francisco, then, was atop Nob Hill at the Fairmont Hotel: “I got in that lobby, and I thought, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t know that I’d really have a lot to do with the Fairmont. But I thought, unless they run me out of this town, I’m not leaving’.”

Charlotte’s civic accomplishments, as an unpaid public official, were exemplary. Those efforts were always infused with her inherent joie de vivre which she shared with everyone from City Hall janitors to Queen Elizabeth II, for whom Charlotte organized the San Francisco leg of a 1983 State visit that included a dazzling, royal-themed version of Beach Blanket Babylon. When stormy weather on the Bay forced the Queen and her late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to abandon the royal yacht Britannia for a dry suite at the St. Francis Hotel, Charlotte introduced Her Majesty to her first-ever dinner in a public restaurant at Trader Vic’s.

In 2007, Her Majesty returned the favor naming Charlotte an Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. It was a feather in an already decorated chapeau that included high-profile appointments as a trustee to boards of the Symphony, SFMOMA, Grace Cathedral, the Commonwealth Club and San Francisco Ballet.

Charlotte also served as Chief of Protocol to the state of California, appointed in 2004 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Via Instagram, his former spouse, Maria Kennedy Shriver paid loving tribute to Charlotte, whom she fondly called, an “earth mother” and “one of the most important people in my life.”

“Today, I sat with her [Charlotte] as she departed this earth. I held her hand and thanked her for her love, her kindness, her service to the State of California and the country. It is an awe inspiring honor to sit with someone as they transition from earth, and it was an awe inspiring honor to walk beside her in life. I hope you have a Charlotte in your life. If you do, hold her tight.”

Like that famous Texas rose, Charlotte’s favorite hue was yellow and close friends fondly dubbed her, “Tex.” But she never really shook the feeling that someday, if she didn’t work hard and pay her dues to San Francisco, she might be deported back to her birth state. After landing a job with SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association), Charlotte also dove head-first into a lifelong commitment of volunteerism for numerous causes.

Her first such job? Working on the mayoral campaign to elect candidate John Shelley.

“I started a group called the Shelley Girls. We’d ride around on cable cars and pass out stuff. That got picked up as an item in Herb Caen’s column. My boss was working for the other candidate,” Charlotte recalled to the Nob Hill Gazette. “He threw the column on my desk, saying, ‘Quit SPUR, or quit Shelley.’ I replied, ‘Well, I won’t do either because it’s my own time.’ I ended with a paid position in Shelley’s office. Since then, I worked for nine (now 10) mayors. All happily, as an unpaid volunteer.”

It was at a Shelley strategy meeting where Charlotte met her first husband, rancher and food broker Jack Mailliard III, a successful, fifth-generation San Francisco native. Their marriage propelled Charlotte’s social stock in The City’s dailies. And this former society editor of her high school newspaper was now a popular bold-faced denizen, regularly chronicled by San Francisco’s most prominent columnists including Caen and the late Pat Steger.

There were two achievements which finally assured Charlotte she’d succeeded as a true-blue San Franciscan. In 2003, amid the Beaux Art beauty of City Hall where she worked in the wood-paneled International Room, the Rotunda’s grand marble staircase — site of memorable civic celebrations she’d organized — was officially named the Charlotte Mailliard Shultz Staircase.

Charlotte was also instrumental assisting Beach Blanket Babylon creator Steve Silver, a former street entertainer who became fast friends upon her arrival in town, secure a permanent berth in 1975 at Club Fugazi, where his zany musical revue entertained multitudes for a record-breaking 44 years. Charlotte, later joined by husband George Shultz, were often star guest performers. Dressed as “Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” Charlotte, strapped in a safety harness, joyfully flew above the crowd well into her eighties. However the “S” on their sequined costumes stood for “Shultz.”

The political and personal relationship Charlotte shared with Brown was mutually cherished. They met in the early 60s, via Herb Caen, haute haberdasher Wilkes Bashford and Beach Blanket Babylon producer Jo Schuman Silver. The dynamic duo also held an exclusive supper club, dubbed the Usual Suspects, at North Beach Restaurant. Charlotte designed a theme, Brown dished off-the-record ripostes and their guests, including Ann and Gordon Getty, former Protocol Director Matthew Goudeau, Gatti, the late Bashford, Schuman Silver and Paul Pelosi, added to the merriment.

“Charlotte was one of my best friends. She, literally, looked out for me more than any other woman in my entire life,” Brown said. “Charlotte was instrumental in growing our Sister City relationships around the world. And she made San Francisco a destination of foreign diplomacy: our Consular Corps is one of the most vital in the world.”

On Friday evening, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, phoned in from Washington, D.C. to share their condolences.

“Charlotte was a San Francisco institution. But tonight we remember her as a dear family friend of fifty-plus years,” said Rep. Pelosi. “She was a perfectionist in all she did. Yet she was the sweetest lady in the world, who never uttered an unkind word about anyone. Nor did she judge, whether you were the Queen, a Pope or a person-in-need.”

Paul Pelosi called Charlotte a “mainstay,” whose total love for San Francisco infused our city with a dynamism that shall remain unmatched.

“Personally and professionally, Charlotte believed anything was possible and imbued all she did with great optimism,” continued Speaker Pelosi. “She had every reason to be the center of attention. Yet she always deflected that spotlight to others. I know she’ll always be watching over the city of San Francisco and cheering our success. Charlotte left us the same way she lived her full, vibrant life: with dignity and grace.”

cbigelow@sfexaminer.com

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