Fillmore loses its mayor

Ruth Garland Dewson (1939-2013)

Ruth Garland Dewson (1939-2013)

SHE CAME TO California from Paris, Texas, and worked for the telephone company in Los Angeles for many years. But it was only when Ruth Garland Dewson moved north to San Francisco and opened a hat shop on Fillmore Street that she found her true home.

She ran Mrs. Dewson’s Hats at 2050 Fillmore for four decades, closing only reluctantly last year at the end of April. She had already moved herself into AgeSong, a home for seniors in Hayes Valley. Vigorous and opinionated until the end, she died early on Monday morning, October 28, soon after being taken to Kaiser Permanente Hospital, just a few blocks from Fillmore. She was 74.

Ruth Dewson gave full meaning to the phrase larger than life. A full-throated statuesque black woman — and proud of it — she was not shy about claiming her place in the forefront of San Francisco’s parade of colorful personalities. Former Mayor Willie Brown was a walking billboard for her hat shop. And her final Christmas card included her picture with a beaming President Obama.

“I’m not known for not knowing the right people,” she said in an interview a few months ago, recalling how she started the Fillmore Jazz Festival and then got her friends in City Hall to put a parking lot on California Street. She called herself the Mayor of Fillmore Street, and so did many others.

“Fillmore Street for me has been a wonderful, wonderful thing,” she said. “I just can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed Fillmore.”


April 2012: “End of an era: Mrs. Dewson’s Hats closes

September 2010: “The hat lady

April 2008: “A force of nature

  • Glenn

    Rest in Peace Aunt Ruth

    • Katia Former Employee

      Has the service already passed?

  • Kathy Drasky

    R.I.P. Ruth. I know you weren’t well in this video, but there are a few flashes of your amazing effervescence. I know you are shining bright now and forever. My condolences to your family.

  • Ashanti Ghania

    I’ll miss her little hat store in Pac Heights. Pleasant Journey, madame.

  • C. Kelly Wright

    Rest in Peace Amazing Lady!! I miss you so much. I’m sure my mom and you are appreciating each other’s heavenly CROWNS!!

    I love your description of Ruth, cause she truly was larger than life. She was the quintessential Big, Bold, Brassy and even Brash black woman — without apology, might I add. I am a better woman because of her influence on my life. I made her acquaintance because of my mother’s love for fine millinery. My mother introduced me to Ruth as a woman who don’t take any more s#*t than I do. I met a woman who had my mother’s deepest respect. I really got to know her when she produced Crowns at Theatreworks and moved it to Marines Memorial. At that point my mother had already gone ahead to Glory. She had to fill in; she did.

    I looked for her when I returned from NY to work at A.C.T. last year. The store was closed and I couldn’t find her til it was time for me to leave. My heart broke because she was not well. She and my mother were two sides of a tremendous coin. Mom would pour on the old charm and honey. Ruth was more: I’m big, I’m bad and I got the money, plus I got charm you keep the honey!!! I’ve found I need it all and thanks to them, I got it all!!