Ick. "Dede Wilsey Is the Defiant Socialite" https://t.co/5glUznL0UO— Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) September 25, 2016
Following an evisceration of her work as board president and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco back in August, the New York Times circles back to paint a fuller picture of Dede Wilsey this weekend, dubbing her the "defiant socialite" of San Francisco, and even getting the reporter an invitation to lunch at Wilsey's Napa estate.
The piece is delightful for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which being that Wilsey is typically very press shy and while this reporter, Laura M. Holson, gets a sit-down lunch with the grande dame, she didn't get much in the way of quotes from friends (Denise Hale, over the phone, only said, "I know you are in town, and I know why you are calling. But I don’t talk about my friends.").
Wilsey is keen to let the public know that as far as her museum responsibilities go, she's not going anywhere, and she'd "like to kill" whoever told the press that she was resigning. (It was reported back in July that she'd be replaced as board chair by two co-chairs, former Visa President and CEO Carl Pascarella and Jack Calhoun, come October, but she now says she's going to be sharing leadership duties with six board members.)
But I for one was glad to learn that names of Wilsey's two Malteses are Twinkle and Dazzle, and that she built an entire children's village on her Napa property for her three grandchildren, which "includes a carousel, three squat miniature air-conditioned houses, a general store and a mock train station." Also: "Ms. Wilsey decorated the pale yellow walls inside the little station with murals of her dogs, her grandchildren and a monkey wearing a pink tutu."
Some more gems:
Absent from the family photos is Sean Wilsey, the stepson who, in a scathing memoir, characterized her as a vapid socialite who married his father for his $300 million fortune. Mr. Wilsey declined to comment for this article. Dinnertime conversations, he wrote, included such topics as the “endearing unintelligence” of tiny dogs, debutante parties and the popularity of his stepbrothers.
“I actually had a good relationship with Sean, and I have no idea why he decided to write that idiotic book,” Ms. Wilsey said.
Ms. Wilsey was on the cover of Town & Country in June 1962, her svelte figure wrapped in yards of fabric and white lace. She was a debutante, and her father wrote in the magazine about her coming out. At 1 a.m., the guests gathered at “Dede’s Peppermint Lounge,” a custom-made dance club designed by Valerian Rybar, a prominent interior decorator at the time. The Bo Diddley Trio played that night; guests did the step that was all the rage at the time, the twist.
Every Christmas, they kicked off the social season with a party at their Pacific Heights mansion for about 300 of San Francisco’s elite.
Mr. Brown, the former mayor, was a regular. “It was mandatory,” he said. “If you ever get an invitation, you have to go. If you don’t get invited, that is even worse.”
Ms. Wilsey estimated that she has donated to more than 380 charities in the past year, among them the Humane Society Silicon Valley, which named the Sparkle Wilsey Grooming Center in honor of a deceased dog.
As lunch wound down, she recalled a time when her granddaughter, Daisy, hit her head on a glass table at the age of 2.
“I heard this horrible crash,” Ms. Wilsey said, “and she came out from under the table with this big bang on the head. And I said to her: ‘Daisy, this is not going to be the last time you hit your head on a glass ceiling. But you did the right thing. Never cry. Never show that it hurts. That’s the most important thing you can learn from hitting your head today.’”