She’s the tops in diplomacy, say former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former California first lady Maria Shriver and most every VIP who’s visited the Bay Area in the past few decades. Charlotte Shultz has served as the unpaid protocol chief for San Francisco for 51 years and for the state of California for the past 14, entertaining England’s Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. She splits her time between a San Francisco penthouse and the Stanford University campus, where she and her husband, former Secretary of State and Hoover Institution fellow George Shultz, have a home. Despite repeated bouts with breast cancer and a fall in May that resulted in a broken pelvis, the 84-year-old has the energy of someone half her age. Her secret? Keeping her eye relentlessly on the future.
Public service, she says, “has given me a lot of pleasure. Everything I’ve been involved in and every friend that I have is because of some kind of connection with some kind of cause. Friendships are treasures. I wouldn’t have them and I wouldn’t know those people otherwise. It’s given back to me tenfold over.” She sits on many boards and has chaired many galas over the years. “The performing arts give people pleasure, and buildings are beautiful and are there for a lifetime,” she says. “I like people having a good time.”
She says memory-making touches are key to her success: Create intriguing invitations; greet guests at the door; get them a drink; and ensure there’s soft lighting, music—and a surprise. Shultz has dropped pingpong balls on guests from the ceiling of city hall at the Black & White Ball and once hired an actor to play librarian and chide guests (including former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis) about “overdue books” with risque titles at a birthday dinner for her husband (the table centerpiece was a stack of books he’d authored.) “Plan everything, and once the party starts, forget it,” she says. “It’s too late to do anything else—and people won’t know if something goes wrong.”
Originally published in the December issue of Silicon Valley