Woman of Substance: Charlotte Mailliard Shultz

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It’s hard to tell what Charlotte Mailliard Shultz loves more—throwing great events or later recounting the festivities, both of which she’s equally adept at. As San Francisco’s chief of protocol during eight San Francisco mayoral administrations, for six years under former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and since Governor Jerry Brown took office in 2011, she’s done plenty of the former and, being an effusive raconteur, we’re sure lots of the latter as well.

The gregarious Texan who inherited her mother’s people skills is once again in her element. She’s part of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee’s Advisory Group, which is organizing some of the major events that will take place during Super Bowl Week, including Super Bowl City (a free fan village), the NFL Experience at the Moscone Center, NFL Films and San Francisco Symphony’s Concert of Champions, and Party with a Purpose at the Cow Palace.

“My mother was always very gracious and fun,” recalls Shultz. “Everybody liked to be around her. I guess I fortunately learned, maybe not as well as she did it—but at least I love people and being around people and having fun with people.”

Shultz is relaxing in her sumptuous Russian Hill penthouse, where she’s hosted royalty, heads of state and last month the 95th birthday bash for her husband of 18 years, George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. The exclusive affair drew notable guests, including ex-secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Stanford University president John Hennessy, ex-California governor Pete Wilson, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and former mayors Willie Brown of San Francisco and Michael Bloomberg of New York.

Even as Shultz entertains her well-heeled and well-known friends, she is not amnesic of her working-class upbringing. When an electrical plug needed fixing at home recently, Shultz said to her husband, “My mother could have fixed that in a minute. I’ve seen her on the floor underneath the sink with a wrench fixing the plumbing.” It was less expensive than hiring a plumber and, growing up in Borger, Texas, there wasn’t an abundance of money in the Smith household.

“I never realized what we didn’t have because we had what we needed,” says Shultz, whose parents, Charles and Martha Smith, owned a five-and- dime store. “No matter how little you have, you can always help others.”

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Shultz was Charlotte Smith when she arrived to San Francisco in 1963 with a friend and $35. The University of Arkansas graduate landed a job as a receptionist and accountant at SPUR, formerly known as the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association, although she says she didn’t “know where to put the zeroes on those yellow things and I didn’t know how to type.” While volunteering for mayoral candidate Jack Shelley’s campaign, she met her first husband, Jack Mailliard, who chaired the political crusade. “I’m struck with luck,” says Shultz, who took a job in Shelley’s office after he was inaugurated in 1964. “It’s just where you are at the right time.” Mailliard died in 1986 and was buried at the Mailliard family ranch in Yorkville, where Shultz still puts flowers and sprinkles Jack Daniel’s on his grave. She and the Mailliard family are placing the property, full of beautiful, old growth redwood trees, into a conservancy for Save the Redwoods League. In 1988, she wed Mel Swig, who owned the Fairmont Hotel, a place that so impressed Shultz when she first arrived to San Francisco that she used to go there and people-watch for hours. Swig passed away in 1993. In 1997, she married George Shultz in San Francisco’s social event of the year. “People thank George for all he has done for the world; I thank God for all he brings to my life,” she coos.

We’re sure the city is thankful for Shultz, who sits on the boards of the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Over the years, she’s planned parades for the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers and World Series champion San Francisco Giants, brought back the city’s Black and White Ball and coordinated celebrations for milestone anniversaries of the Golden Gate Bridge and Tony Bennett’s first performance of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” at the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room.

She’s currently organizing a fête for Bennett’s 90th birthday in August, helping to raise money to erect a statue of the singer that will go outside the Fairmont, and working with Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto, on expanding the couple’s Exploring the Arts nonprofit to San Francisco.

“I love celebrating life. It’s all about the people, and San Franciscans love to celebrate anything.,” Shultz states. “I like to make it all happen.” She certainly had the people in 1987 when she correctly predicted one million people would show up for the the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge after an expert forecast 40,000. So many pedestrians jammed onto the world famous landmark for the Bridge Walk that the arched structure flattened and became known as “Charlotte’s Bridge.” The grand staircase in San Francisco City Hall is dubbed for her as well. The atrium in San Francisco Public Library’s main branch is named for Shultz and Swig while the garden courtyard’s horseshoe drive between the War Memorial Opera House and the Veterans Building was christened Charlotte & George Shultz Horseshoe Drive in 2012. She’s noted for being a convivial character. Outfitted as Wonder Woman, she flew through the air during a 2005 performance of “Beach Blanket Babylon” attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

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In 2014, Shultz dressed up as a sports referee— complete with a whistle in her mouth—for a San Francisco Chronicle photo shoot; the story topic was etiquette at galas. Shultz is not above menial tasks either, whether it’s returning to City Hall in the wee hours of the morning, armed with 409 and rags, to clean mud off the walls left behind after she brought in real grass for a 1985 pre-Super Bowl XIX party for Feinstein, then the San Francisco mayor, or staying up all night to cut the Chronicle into confetti to be used for a parade for the paper’s iconic columnist, Herb Caen, in 1996.

Despite all of the big and little things Shultz does, she says she receives too much credit.

“I surround myself with people who excel in what they do, like the very best caterers like McCalls, the very best people in the floral business and in décor like Stanlee Gatti and people who are creative,” she says. “Also, I love to gather people together and have a brainstorming [session] where one thing plays off of another.”

One of the aspects she appreciates most about heading up the mayor’s office of protocol, which works in conjunction with the city to host foreign dignitaries, attract commerce and tourism and promote diversity and cultural understanding, is facilitating diplomatic relations with the San Francisco Consular Corps. She relishes meeting the consular generals, many of whom are men, and helping their wives get settled in their new city with dentists, hairdressers and so forth.

“The best part of my job is that you’re put in a position to really meet and be with [people] and also help, like in fundraising for causes,” Shultz enthuses. “It’s a job that is very rewarding.”

One of her greatest honors came in 2007 at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., where Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Shultz the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order for her long record of service in assisting royal visitors.

“I was overwhelmed,” says Shultz, who had received Her Majesty in San Francisco in 1983 and attended a party on her yacht. “She’s really lovely. I’ve met many of the Royal Family, entertained them and received them. It’s all part of the job, but it’s a great job. You’re not paid for it, but I get paid in many other ways.”

Although Shultz is often asked when she’s going to write a book, don’t hold your breath waiting.

“I don’t care about the past,” Shultz asserts. “I want to go forward.”