Being that I’ve only been in the Bay Area a few years, I didn’t know the iconic Wilkes Bashford nearly as long or as well as so many of the people whom I’m certain are shedding tears—just like me—as they learn of his passing. Yet in the short amount of time that I’ve been here, he touched me like few have in my lifetime, for that was the kind of man Wilkes Bashford was—so incredibly kind, giving, loving and downright honest.
Even being the writer I am, I am still grappling to find the right words to describe what Wilkes meant to me. I write this just a few minutes after learning of his death while perusing Facebook and seeing Paula West’s status update. I met Wilkes and Paula because of my longhair Chihuahua, Lucy, and their dogs, Duchie, a Dachshund, and Satchmo, a French bulldog, back in 2012—long before I became editor of Haute Living San Francisco. In fact, I wasn’t living in Northern California at the time.
While still living in Los Angeles, a friend told me about a new event called Haute Dog, a doggie fashion show to be held at the San Francisco Design Center. Because I was up here periodically to see my now ex, I registered Lucy as a model. Wilkes was the emcee and that evening in February 2012 was the first time I ever heard his name. Later that year I moved north and began to hear his name more, naturally.
Wilkes emceeed Haute Dog II in 2013 and my Lucy modeled once again. At the show, I met another pawrent, Carolyne Zinko, who a few months later would later feature me in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Style section because of my pet travel website, TheJetSetPets.com, and because I was writing a book on pet travel for National Geographic, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel.
When it came time for the book’s release, Carolyne suggested I have Wilkes host my book party. This was really my first personal experience with Wilkes outside of seeing him at Haute Dog once a year for two years. I didn’t know him but knew he would remember my dog for she was a ham. I showed up announced to his eponymous store, toting my Lucy and a proof of my book and asked him if he would consider hosting my book party. He played with Lucy (and I prayed she didn’t snap at him) and looked at the book; Wilkes was so impressed that he said yes on the spot. That’s the kind of guy Wilkes Bashford was!
It would be one thing for someone in SF to agree to host my book party NOW because, thanks to my job with Haute Living, I know pretty much everyone who is anyone in the city. But for Wilkes to say yes to me, a nobody in SF society’s eyes back then, well, then that just says a lot about who he was.
I’m sure he is asked to do many things. There was nothing for him to gain by hosting my book release party except the good feeling he would get from helping another dog lover. That was enough for him.
Wilkes and I became friends while I planned the party. He gave me input and invited people, including Willie Brown. Not only did Willie show up but he even bought a book, which I suggested I sign for his daughter Sydney and her dog Bean for I had met them both at the two Haute Dog events that had taken place.
After the book party in 2014, I’d pop by Wilkes Bashford to say hi to Wilkes whenever I was in his area and we’d have lunch on occasion at Le Central. Wilkes never let me pay. Sometimes, I’d just stop by Le Central and watch him shoot dice for I liked to think that I was his good luck charm. He certainly was mine. He felt my pain when I lost my Lucy in September 2014 for he had been there several times before with one Dachshund after another. Although I was a loyal supporter of Pets Unlimited, which later merged with the SF SPCA, I also became a supporter of Muttville, a senior dog rescue, because the nonprofit was very dear to Wilkes.
Following my move to Rutherford last July, I didn’t see Wilkes as often because I wasn’t in the city. However, a couple of months ago I stopped by the store. Farley told me that Wilkes was, as usual, at Le Central. I walked to the restaurant and saw Wilkes. I was startled at how frail he appeared and how much he had aged in the few months I hadn’t seen him, unbeknownst of his prostate cancer battle. I cheered him on as he rolled the dice, and he won—as he always did when I was there. We walked back to the store together, promising to get together for lunch with Carolyne, who had recently lost her dog Fred. The three of us never did. The last time I stopped by the store unexpectedly to see Wilkes, Farley informed me that the stylish legend was in Palm Springs.
I figured I would have longer to see Wilkes after I read one of Willie’s December columns in the Chronicle that made me laugh. The former SF mayor wrote:
When it comes to holiday parties, Dede Wilsey’s is always the best. The gorgeous living room, the incredible pieces of art everywhere.
And of course, there is the couch. For the past 15 years, at least one person who has sat on the couch during the party has passed away within the year. I know, because I’ve been keeping tabs.
I saw Wilkes Bashford heading for it this year. I steered him away.
Wilkes must have sat on the couch when Willie wasn’t looking. I’m no longer laughing at Willie’s line. I’m crying for Wilkes and for Dutchie who will undoubtedly miss her pawrent just as much as I will and so many other people in the Bay Area whose lives were touched by Wilkes.
Rest in peace dear Wilkes. I’m pretty darn sure your Dachshunds are so happy to see you now that you’re reunited with them. I don’t know what Duchie is going to do without you. I don’t know what Willie is going to do without you. I don’t know what San Francisco is going to do without you.