George Randolph Hearst, Jr., was a powerful man and media mogul—much like his grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, who was the eccentric genius behind the giant Hearst Corp. firm and an estate we now call Hearst Castle.
George Hearst died at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto on June 25. He was a newspaperman and a consummate businessman. He’d served as a director on the Hearst Corp. board for 53 years.
I suspect that triggering George’s anger in a business transaction could be a prickly situation. Looking back, I know I crossed his path and triggered his ire more than once.
There was the 11-hour California Coastal Commission hearing in San Luis Obispo in 1998, the one at which the commission gave a thumbs down to a large resort development the Hearst Corp. had proposed for the San Simeon Point area and surroundings.
All I did was report what happened at that mega-hearing on the North Coast Area Plan Update, but somehow in the eyes of some Hearstians, I was equally to blame for the demise of their mega-plan.
After members of the Hearst family and corporation licked their wounds for a few years, they became more receptive when George’s son Stephen “Steve” Hearst came to them with what would have seemed an outlandish proposal a decade earlier: Ditch the development, put a conservation easement over almost the entire 82,000-acre ranch, and donate a 13-mile strip of coastal land to the state, all for $95 million.
By early 2005, more than five years later, the deal was done.
In the meantime, George and I had clashed again, after I learned almost by accident that a large structure on the Hearst Ranch had been completely remodeled without a permit.
George was less than enchanted when I did a story about it. But the corporation got an after-the-fact permit for the work, and since then at the Hearst Dairy Barn, nearly $40 million has been raised at functions for nonprofit organizations.
And there were other sides of George Hearst… He told me often that his Paso Robles ranch was his favorite place in the whole world. While he was his grandfa-
ther’s heir in many ways (including business acumen and going for the win), George was first and foremost a cowboy at heart.
He loved the land, the stock, all the trappings of owning a ranch and living on it. He loved to ride horses (especially in the annual Caballeros ride). George loved a good barbecue and was passionate about helping young ranchers learn their trade.
That’s why every year at the fair, he bought so many animals raised by FFA youngsters.
I always found George to be firm but soft spoken, with eyes that twinkled and a laugh that rippled like a mountain brook—especially when he’d said something quietly outlandish, which he did often, wondering if anybody would catch him at it or call him on it.
He had a choice sense of humor, and was a good host.
That’s how I became his “drinking buddy.”
The first time I met George, he hospitably offered me a drink, which I politely declined. We went through that same host-guest dance throughout the time we knew each other.
At the 2005 party celebrating the conservation deal’s completion, George again was the perfect host.
When I declined the drink, his eyebrows slammed together and he said in mock anger, “What’s with this? You’re the only woman who always says no when I offer her a drink.”
I stammered a little, amazed that he, one of the most powerful corporate men in the world, would have remembered those trifling instances.
“George, honey,” I said in my sweetest voice. “It’s not YOU. I get a hangover about 10 minutes after I take the first sip. So I just don’t drink.”
“You drank champagne at the escrow closing” for the conservation deal, he retorted quickly.
He remembered that, too? “George, I TOOK the glass of champagne,” I told him. “But I didn’t DRINK it.”
He laughed and laughed, and I got the feeling he enjoyed having been one-upped, just a little bit.
Forever after, whenever I’d call him, he’d come on the line saying, “And how’s my drinking buddy today?”
That was another side of George Hearst. And I’ll miss him.