Ines Mejia Folger -- socialite lived with zest
Friday, July 27, 2007
Days after her 100th birthday, Ines Mejia Folger greeted a friend who arrived at her bedside.
"I'm bored," Ms. Folger said. "I should get a job."
The centenarian had only recently given up French lessons to maintain her accent and had employed a personal trainer well into her 90s.
But now she was bored.
She couldn't continue to read; her eyesight had failed some time before, and she couldn't play a hand of bridge. But she could talk, Ms. Folger told her friend John Drum, so maybe she could advise people.
Ms. Folger, known as simply Pui to everyone who knew her, died less than two weeks later on July 15.
Her wise counsel, however, was not lost. The San Francisco native guided generations by example for decades, living life with enthusiasm, curiosity and a large measure of gusto while overcoming a very public and horrifying tragedy, friends said.
Her daughter Abigail had died 38 years ago at the age of 25 -- one of the five people killed by followers of Charles Manson at the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate on Aug. 8, 1969.
"I just don't know how she got through it," said Joan Chatfield-Taylor, a friend of Ms. Folger's over five decades. "She was open about talking about it. And she never lost her sense of humor. It helps when you have one million friends," Chatfield-Taylor said.
Ms. Folger was born Ines Mejia in Piedmont in 1907 -- denied a San Francisco birthright after her family was displaced by the 1906 earthquake.
Her father was the consul general for El Salvador and she spent much of her youth attending schools in France and England.
Decades later, she would enthrall friends at dinner parties with stories about the burial of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and other post-World War I events -- "things that came right out of the history books," Chatfield-Taylor said.
She returned to finish high school at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Menlo Park, but was ultimately denied a diploma because she helped a classmate elope.
In 1933, she married Peter Folger, a member of the coffee family. They had two children, Abigail and Peter, and were divorced in 1952.
Friends described Ms. Folger as the center of attention and the liveliest person in any room. A voracious reader, she was curious about a wide range of topics and had opinions on virtually any idea that was raised at a dinner table.
"She didn't spend her time being shocked and disapproving," Chatfield-Taylor said. "She was always interested in what was going on."
In the mid-1960s, when she was in her 60s, Ms. Folger worked in the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic.
In the 1990s, when she was in her 90s, she met the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan monk tied a string around Ms. Folger's neck, a simple spiritual token the San Francisco socialite wore for years, Drum said.
"It was a profound experience for her," he said of the encounter that happened at the San Francisco Opera. "She said she looked into his eyes and saw his soul and such humanity."
Ms. Folger was a founding member of the Patrons of the Arts and Music at the Palace of Fine Arts, which eventually evolved into the Fine Arts Museum Board. She was also a board member of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Ms. Folger was a fan of San Francisco gossip and "terribly up to date on it," Chatfield-Taylor said.
"She was in society," she said, "but she didn't take the social scene that seriously."
Ms. Folger is survived by her son Peter Folger of San Francisco; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be said at 4 p.m. on Sept. 17, at St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Ave., San Francisco.
Donations can be sent to the Abigail Folger Library Fund, Santa Catalina School, 1500 Mark Thomas Dr., Monterey, CA, 93940.
[thanks to catscradle for the find]