RUTH GARLAND DEWSON made a name for herself in this town!
FAMOUSLY known as the HAT LADY, Mrs. Dewson passed Monday, October 28, at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Francisco. She was 74.
Called her earlier this year on her birthday, March 10, surprised and pleased to hear my voice and to be remembered. Enthusiastically shared she was dressed in fancy gold colored outfit, of course, a matching hat, cheered by the love of friends and others who had given her support during those trying days in her life! Wheelchair bound, Mrs. Dewson was a resident at Agesong, an assisted living facility in Hayes Valley.
Roots in Paris, Texas, the youngest of 10 children, born to Willie and Elgie Garland. Ruth ran away from home when she was 14 years old to live with a sister in Los Angeles for many years, moved to San Francisco in 1967. I met her in the late 70s (about the time I started this column) on Divisadero Street - a time of Black life, clubs, businesses - a strip frequented by sports stars, and soon to be a famous politician - WILLIE L. BROWN, Jr., TEXAN from MINEOLA who made his mark in California!
The legendary hat purveyor, once, self anointed Mayor of Pacific Heights upper Fillmore Street, a lady who opened her haberdashery in mid-90’s, which also became her PR office, visited through the years by celebrated personalities; significantly, SENATOR BARACK OBAMA. on the campaign trail.....former San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., mayor during the time of Mrs. Dewson’s colorful presence on upper fillmore, and the talk of the town, and beyond. She named “the Willie Brim,” in his honor.
Sadly, after 37 years, due to failing health, confinement, Dewson was forced to close her successful business, April 29, 2012. For weeks, when peering through the window, glimpse of cluttered space with discarded boxes, papers, other useless remnants, and memories of what once was Mrs. Dewson’s Hats! The end of an era!
The House that Mrs. Dewson built, 2050 Fillmore, colorful exterior and interior, added zest and glamour to the block that had yet to develop, until the past few years, now an UPSCALE destination., occupied by NARS Cosmetics Boutique, a full spectrum of classic and fashion colors, which opened Friday, March 15 of this year.
I was never on Mrs. Dewson’s A or B, perhaps even the C List, despite conversing through the years - she was a CLIMBER!!! I understood her ways, where she was trying to go. BUT controversial! She could be cold, rude to some customers, felt they didn’t have the money to purchase her pricey hats!
Often wrote about Mrs. Dewson, BEFORE her rise to fame! Always an interesting person, aggressive. A natural businesswoman, started with a manicurist shop downtown on Kearney; moved to Fillmore, expanded to hair salon then HATS!
Recall happy times. And when the love of her life, ERNEST DEWSON, whom she lovingly called “Ernie”, passed in 2006, his death left her devastated! He was her ROCK! I don’t believe she ever recovered from the loss!
When Dewson took ill several years ago, well before she sold her business, a devoted employee carried on or sometime, operating the store sales until closing. Met Ruth’s nephew, GLENN MITCHELL of Dallas, TX, employed, who traveled monthly , stayed a few days to oversee the operation, but alas had to finally give it up.
One of my last conversation with Ruth was one of HOPE! In high spirits, able to gradually progress in small walking steps, good to hear the happiness in her voice, for she had gone through so much personal grief, ups and downs, but got the impression she was moving forward, turning the corner, filled with hope, joy and the future. Expected her to return to the spotlight - she would have it no other way - surprising us with another creative move!
As mentioned she had been living in AGESONG, an assisted living facility about two years, between Hayes and Grove, not too far from her Boutique. And close to her church of many years, Jones Memorial Methodist Church, located in the heart of the Fillmore Western Addition, where with assistance she was able to worship on Sundays.
Observed Mrs. Dewson’s rise in this town. What remarkable strong woman, street savvy, who survived many hurdles in her life! I was hoping to stand by, pen in hand, watch her FLY, HAT FLOPPING IN THE WIND! R.I.P. MY LADY!
HEY, IT’S NICE TO BE NICE AND TO ALL OF YOU OUT THERE...LOOK FOR ME...I’LL BE THERE...
E-mail Rochelle at email@example.com