By Catherine Bigelow
Lois Lehrman, 89, the dynamic former San Francisco publisher-owner of the Nob Hill Gazette, died after a short illness on Aug. 15 while visiting her family in Tallahassee, Florida.
“Lois was a self-made woman and a lioness of a mother,” said her daughter Mindy 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.
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.
“I am saddened by the passing of Lois Lehrman,” said Clint Reilly. “Lois made the Nob Hill Gazette an indispensable magazine that astutely reported on the social scene and the accomplishments of San Francisco’s movers and shakers in a way that elevated our city.”
Lois Kotler was born Aug. 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 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 saleswomen 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 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 bold-faced 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 over-sized, four-color format.
“Growing up in my era, people always said they only bought Playboy for the articles,” recalls her son, attorney Paul Lehrman, with a laugh. “Mindy was more involved with Mom on the Gazette. But I really loved all the stories Mom produced and the diverse topics she covered.”
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.
“She was an amazing, protective and inspiring force for me and my brother,” said 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.”
Lois Lehrman is survived by sister, Alexandra Compton; her son Paul (Lisa Eckely) and daughter Mindy (Max Cameron); grandchildren Gaea, Olivia, Justine, and Emma; and great grandchild, Nico. Memorial information is pending.