Gail “Gig” Kane Owen of Belvedere, a leading figure in the San Francisco hospitality industry, died April 18 of acute cardiac arrest. She was 79.
Mrs. Owen began her successful hospitality career by working in sales and marketing on the 1972 opening of the Stanford Court Hotel, developed by powerhouse hoteliers Jim Nassikas and William Wilkinson from a former apartment building on the site of the Leland Stanford estate.
Mrs. Owen went on to become the top sales manager for the Mark Hopkins Hotel, now the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. She retired after helping to open the Campton Place Hotel, now Taj Campton Place, in 1983.
Jerry DiVecchio, who served as food and wine editor for Sunset magazine for 45 years, met Mrs. Owen at a Sunset luncheon many years ago.
“That was a high-powered team she worked with,” DiVecchio said of Mrs. Owen’s partnership with Nassikas and Wilkinson. “Both those hotels were the ultimate. She was very effective at what she did.”
She took a break from the hospitality industry at one point to establish the San Francisco office of Volt Temporary Personnel with a partner, Dharice Foley.
In 1989, Mrs. Owen helped found the San Francisco chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an invitation-only philanthropic organization of women leaders in the food, beverage and hospitality industries and, since then, had served as an officer and historian, as well as host of many of the organization’s events.
Mrs. Owen was born Sept. 21, 1941, in Hartford, Conn., to Thomas Robert Kane, a World War I cavalry veteran, and Josephine Lawler Kane. By 1951, both parents reportedly died of heart attacks, and Mrs. Owen and her younger brother were raised by their elder sister, Joan.
She graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy in West Hartford and in 1962 graduated with honors from Chamberlayne Junior College in Boston. Her first job was working for the Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
She decided to move to California, and drove west on Route 66 to Los Angeles then up to San Francisco in her Volkswagen Beetle in 1963.
She and her husband, attorney Melville Owen, were married in 1981. For many years, the two enjoyed living and entertaining in their 1874 Victorian in San Francisco. They moved to Belvedere in 2010 and became even more active in the San Francisco Yacht Club, where Mr. Owen had been a member for many years.
Mrs. Owen lost her leg and nearly died in a 1997 accident in which she was pinned between two cars.
Before the accident, she skied and played tennis. Afterward, she became an advocate for other amputees and was active in the amputee coalition Stumps ’R Us. She continued to enjoy cruising the bay and entertaining on the their 44-foot classic 1929 motor yacht, Pat Pending, which had been in the family since 1940 when it was purchased and named by Mel Owen’s father, patent attorney Don Owen.
It was another 13 years before Mel Owen could persuade Mrs. Owen to give up all the stairs of their city home for a stair-free apartment on Beach Road in Belvedere. The couple continued to entertain frequently and made San Francisco Yacht Club their second home, friends said. Mrs. Owen could often be found at the club engaged in a round of dominoes with her husband and friends.
She was a past member of the board of the Little Jim Club, the fundraising auxiliary of the Children’s Hospital of San Francisco, now part of California Pacific Medical Center. For years, she volunteered twice a week for Project Open Hand, delivering meals to homebound AIDS patients.
Mary Risley, founder and owner of the famed Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco, had known Mrs. Owen since they were neighbors on Washington Street in Pacific Heights, and was delighted to find they were both Connecticut Yankees.
Risley said she admired the way Mrs. Owen embraced motherhood after she married Mel Owen, who had five children.
“She was a wonderful family person,” Risley said.
Retired public-relations maven Susie Biehler, another member of Les Dames, called Mrs. Owen “an extraordinary woman.”
“She was always so gracious and positive, despite her challenges,” she said.
“She was very, very friendly, and she was always upbeat and cheerful and ready to go,” said former Belvedere Mayor and City Councilmember Corinne Wiley. “She was an unbelievable hostess on the boat, tending to everyone, making sure they had everything they needed.”
Mel Owen noted his wife was known for “her infectious smile, boundless energy, kindness, generosity and positive approach to life” and was renowned for being able to remember the name of every person — or pet — she met.
“She had an uncanny ability to make others feel good about themselves,” he said.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Owen is survived by five stepchildren; five step-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews from her extended East Coast family. The sister who raised her, Joan Kane Rarey, and her two brothers, Tim and Peter Kane, predeceased her; Tim died in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and is buried in Europe.
No services are planned at this time. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Belvedere Community Foundation, P.O. Box 484, Belvedere, CA 94920; the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Foundation, 1501 Tiburon Blvd., Tiburon, CA 94920; or 10,000 Degrees, 1650 Los Gamos Drive, Suite 110, San Rafael, CA 94903.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.