November 2, 2013

Goodbye to Ruth Garland-Dewson, the San Francisco milliner.

"Mrs. Dewson owned a celebrated shop on upper Fillmore Street called Mrs. Dewson's Hats for more than 37 years. Among her customers were former Mayor Willie Brown, Bruce Springsteen, Samuel L. Jackson, B.B. King and Sharon Stone. Brown called her "the milliner to high society." Mrs. Dewson designed a hat for him, which she called the Willie Brown Snap Brim. 'It fit my personality,' Brown wrote in his autobiography, 'Basic Brown."

When I was in San Francisco back in 2007, I had a chance encounter with her. I blogged this:
I was traipsing about San Francisco yesterday, and, snapping dozens of pictures, I made my way over to Fillmore Street for a little window shopping. I saw this...

DSC06281.JPG

.. and was struggling against the glare and reflections to frame my shot — and also, idiotically, talking on my iPhone — when a woman — who I now understand to be Ruth Garland-Dewson — swept out of the store and flung herself between me and the picture of Barack Obama.

"Are you trying to take a picture of my man?" she said dramatically.

But she wasn't what I for a second thought she was: one of those shopkeepers who are touchy about having their place photographed. She wanted to come out and talk — about Barack Obama and other things as well. I got off my phone conversation and complimented her on the great shop and asked if she had extra large hats. I love women's hats, but since I need a men's extra-large size, I can never find a woman's hat — aside from something stretchy — that fits. She found me what might have been her largest hat, and it almost fit. You know, I should have bought it! It was ocher-colored with a dark purple spiral — a felt hat with a large brim. I think I would have bought it if she'd tried to talk me into it (as so many sales people have nudged me beyond my initial resistance — it's not very hard).

But she wanted to talk about Barack Obama. Do I like him? Yes! I think he's a good man, and that he would be able to do a lot of good. I added, "But I kind of like Giuliani." That was okay with her, it seemed — so long as I don't like Hillary.
I'm sad to read that she's died, and I'm sorry I didn't buy that hat. She was so sociable and nice to me that day. She seemed like she was ready to launch into a conversation with me just because I was the one person who happened to be around just then.

Can you see the printed text in my photograph, above? That's her line, "I would say, 'Go, Obama, you're black enough for me,'" which ended a letter that she had printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 1, 2007, reacting to what was then a hot dispute: whether Obama was "black enough."

29 comments:

EDH said...

I have a fat head too.

You know, I should have bought it! ...I think I would have bought it if she'd tried to talk me into it (as so many sales people have nudged me beyond my initial resistance — it's not very hard).

But she wanted to talk about Barack Obama. Do I like him? Yes! I think he's a good man, and that he would be able to do a lot of good.


Yep, being nudged into buying the hat would have been better for the country than buying the Hope.

campy said...

Luckily for the democrats her vote lives on.

pm317 said...

so long as I don't like Hillary.

Oh, one of those.

Ron said...

This, then fits the thread...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eX6k5tRzDuU

MayBee said...

You traveled?

Paul Zrimsek said...

So who will now be in charge of deciding who is or isn't black enough? You can't just leave these things unregulated!

Ann Althouse said...

@Paul Zrimsek I think you need to read her letter more carefully.

Stephen Reynolds said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Buy a hat stretcher. They work for we the large brained.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Could be. Having read it again I can't tell what her point is supposed to be, so better to have no opinion of it.

El Pollo Raylan said...

I have a large head too. I'll never forget a time in 4th or 5th grade when a female classmate walked right up to me, put the two palms against my head (front and back) as if to measure me and then pulled back, keeping her hands about 8 1/2 inches apart. She mouthed a "wow" and showed her friends. I was mortified.

n.n said...

So, voting for Obama was a redemptive act, an act of contrition. She could have confessed to a priest or perhaps to a psychologist.

Marshal said...

Yes! I think he's a good man

I've never heard a more irrelevant comment about a Presidential candidate.

Plus: Sucker!

Ann Althouse said...

"So, voting for Obama was a redemptive act, an act of contrition."

Read the obituary. You're missing something.

A said...

She was an iconic San Franciscan, charming and soulful. The city is poorer without her.

El Pollo Raylan said...

We will all be better off the day when we look without praise at black woman who openly admits voting for a man because he's black enough, or at a white man who votes for a white woman because she's white enough.

Althouse, that's my take away message from your post.

pm317 said...

I read the obituary, I read her letter.. she does not seem any different than the other 95+% who voted for his skin color. She may have said he is black enough for her but she seems to have supported because he is black enough for her. Reverse racism is what I see, especially with her comment about Hillary.

Ann Althouse said...

You have to remember that there were some black leaders then who'd been saying Obama wasn't black enough. Her letter is rejecting that, criticizing them.

Balfegor said...

Ah, hats. I don't think there's a single proper millinery shop in DC now. There's a hat shop up by Dupont Circle, and there used to be a (not particularly good) one in Georgetown, but it's basically a thing of the past. There's a few shops that sell hats left in New York City, though. A pity they're all dying out.

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n.n said...

Is she mocking people who were seeking redemption (e.g. Biden et al) and others like Jesse Jackson who were concerned about authentic black representation and their own status?

Dewson is black. So, what did she hope electing Obama would accomplish? How did she perceive the significance of his mixed heritage and predominant skin color? Did she support him because he was "black enough"?

I judged her by the content of her statement without knowledge of her skin color. I reached the wrong conclusion but only as a matter of perspective. I will give her credit for questioning the hesitation of people seeking to redeem themselves, and black leaders who were concerned about their status; and, that's all. I don't know anything else about her character in this context. I will add that she appears to have had a generally good character.

It's a shame. This shouldn't matter, but it obviously does.

Ben Calvin said...

She cut quite the figure around town for many years. Unfortunately she developed Alzheimer's so she became a bit erratic before her shop closed. Hats have made a huge comeback here, and are pretty much part of the hipster mandatory uniform. In addition there is a store here that makes beautiful hand made hats using vintage equipment, called Paul's Hat Works: http://www.hatworksbypaul.com

Clyde said...

I think that John F. Kennedy is responsible for killing the hat as a required daily article of clothing for men. Look at crowd pictures from the early 1960s and before: The men are almost all wearing hats. Along came JFK, with a great head of hair and frequent hatlessness, and a new style trend was born, and fewer and fewer men wore hats. It's my own pet theory that it wasn't the Cubans or the Mob that had him killed, but rather Harry Truman and the haberdashers.

tim maguire said...

Her letter's point is that black people shouldn't reject a candidate so long as he has some black in him. It's enough that he's not fully white. Like Hillary.

On a side note, it's courageous of you to keep reminding your readers of how frivolously you approach the decision of who to make the most powerful person in the world, in whose hands are placed the welfare of billions. Doesn't speak any better of your judgment now than it did then, but still...courageous.

Michael said...

Lock & Co of St James is where to go for hats. Given its near constant drizzle London still has many wearers of hats.

Roux said...

She's dead so she's free from the poor decision of voting for Obame... you still have to live with it.

Roux said...

She's dead so she's free from the poor decision of voting for Obame... you still have to live with it.

Balfegor said...

Re: Clyde:

Ah, but as she is said to have remarked, Black people have continued to wear hats. Even though African-Americans make up a comparatively small percentage of the people I encounter on a daily basis, they make up a clear majority of hat-wearers, other than in summer (when Whites in DC do often wear straw hats).

donald said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with voting for somebody because you think they're a good person. If they truly are, them the will perform and behave honorably. Honorable people do good and right things. Typically.

Jackasses who bray about helping the little guy and punishing the big guy, now those I got a problem with.

Barack's entire essence is that of one who is not a good guy. His race baiting class warfare is as bad guy as it gets.

His policies and the results are the reflection of a bad guy.