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.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
April 2012: “End of an era: Mrs. Dewson’s Hats closes”
September 2010: “The hat lady”
April 2008: “A force of nature”