Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bertha Bonart and I were students in Will Barnet's class at the Art Student's League in New York. Bertha left on a boat to Brazil to join Paul. I thought I would never see her again. Some years later I moved to Rochester, N.Y. I was introduced to a fellow artist who looked very familiar - Bertha had arrived there as well!

Paul had successfully started up a manufacturing and distribution center for Bausch & Lomb but was now brought back to Rochester to be Vice President of Foreign Affairs. He had made a team of employees who participated in the decisions needed to be made, and who loved their work because of it. They loved him as well, as attested by many of them who met his plane at a very early hour, surprising him years later when he and Bertha returned for a visit. He had an eye for promoting his products. He finagled a meeting with the current dictator of Brazil and presented him with several pairs of eyeglasses, including sunglasses. Thus came about the image of the South American dictators peering from behind his Bausch & Lomb lenses. As an executive in Rochester, he made choices unheard of in his office. He hired people of color, promoted women to responsible positions and refused to use the executive washroom.

Some years passed and I made the decision to go to California. At an art function, I told Bertha that I had something to tell her. She had something to tell me as well. Fortunately, she and I passed the same information that day and shortly became California citizens. Paul retired in a few months and joined her.

The Bonart's home became a modern, light filled, functional center in the heart of the Napa Valley. They added a large room over a former chicken coop for Bertha's studio and a salon complete with a grand piano over the original living room. We were treated to live concerts and records of classical music while watching workers tend grapevines in what is now the Sterling Winery. We swam in the pool, heated by coiled pipes at a time when conserving anything was even considered. As usual. Paul was ahead of the game. I tasted my first fig from one of their trees and watched their German Shepherds frolic in ideal conditions. Bertha once said that if ever she were incarnated in this life, she would like to become one of Paul Bonart's dogs. One afternoon when I was visiting, a knock sounded and who should be standing there but Robert Mondavi and his soon to be wife, with gifts of wine to thank Bertha for labels she had designed for them.

The musical and artistic side of Paul became evident to me. I attended a concert of the Napa Symphony Orchestra where he played viola. He was concentrating on improving his playing and he drove to San Francisco for private lessons with no less than the first violinist with the San Francisco Symphony!

The long trip back and forth to the Bay area became tiresome. This influenced their decision to move to Berkeley. Their new house was an outstanding piece of modern architecture, designed by the head of the Architecture Dept. at U.C.Berkeley. They filled it with Bertha's art and enjoyed breathtaking views of a wide sweep of the bay.

Paul was always shrewd about politics: he was my source of light when I couldn't figure out the arguments for the many propositions we have to vote on in California. He was also shrewd about the stock market: when people were buying oil stocks, he bought oil service manufacturers and outdid all the clients of his adviser at Merrill Lynch.

Bertha's death left him terribly lonely. We were pleased when Margaret came into his life. Both of his wives were intelligent, creative and accomplished individuals. He would have settled for no less.

The move to Huntington Beach brought them closer to Margaret's family . They filled this house with art and renovated it to suit them. Major health issues soon restricted their life style. Paul
became computer savvy and filled our computers with frequent "forwards". His life became lonely again as Margaret's health failed. At this time he wrote his first account of life in the German underground. It was interesting to read and most everyone would have stopped at such a difficult and demanding task. But he saw how to make it better - and redid the entire book - this in his 90's!!!!!

Paul was an amazing, caring, moral, life-loving individual. I have been privileged to know him.

Just wish I knew a movie producer who would put this extraordinary life on the silver screen.

-Pat Walsh

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hello Pat, I am re-reading your post having read it many years ago. We met while I was living with the Bonarts in Berkeley between 1981 thru 1985 (Pablo). It is now 2013; its also early morning. I woke early and can't seem to sleep so I was googling various things and googled Paul, wondering if the world had yet to more completely 'discover' this man. In the process I was presented once again with your post. Thank you so much for your eloquence and precise justice in describing Paul and Bertha, who I loved deeply and still think of quite often. I could not concur more with your wish of someone to produce a movie about the most extraordinary person and couple I have ever known. I tried with no success to 'market' his book by contacting professors around the world during the last year of Paul's life. That experience left me with mixed feelings about academia and its seemingly inability to transcend the boundaries it claims to want to cross. Paul and Bertha forever impacted my life and continue to be an influence to me still today. I hope this post finds you and that you are not too lonely with the loss of such friends. Cheers, Paul (Pablo)Hester