Chimney Sweep

Giving thanks for individuals who made our world higher

Dick Hafner died last week. The co-founder of the family-owned-and-operated Hafner Vineyard was a wise and ingenious man — and a friend.

He and his wife, Mary, who died in 2017, purchased their Alexander Valley ranch in 1967. In the late 20th century emergence of the Sonoma County wine industry, they qualify as pioneers, having removed prune trees to plant the vineyards that would produce their favorite wines.

Before the pandemic, we were lucky enough to spend time with Dick and Mary in a small group that met for lunch every couple of months.

In recent years, five members of our lunch group have died, including Dick and Mary, plus Pat and Ted Eliot, and Anne Teller.

All five were amazing people who believed that taking care of the land and looking out for each other should be everyone’s responsibility.

This Thanksgiving weekend becomes the right time to give thanks for the gifts they left for the rest of us.

All five seemed to live their lives in two acts, the second as compelling as the first. Their stories made for great conversations over lunch.

After time as a newspaperman in the East Bay and in Southeast Asia, Dick would become the chief spokesman for UC Berkeley during the student uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s. He had stories to tell.

Mary would join a UC student delegation to India and Pakistan and later give French cooking lessons from her Berkeley home while serving on the boards of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and KQED.

In time, she would find herself driving a tractor to clear the land for the grapes that would become the wine that bears the Hafner name.

Ted would become the US ambassador to Afghanistan after diplomatic postings all over the world. He and Pat would marry in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and one of their children would be born in Moscow. Later, he would serve as executive assistant to the US treasury secretary, executive secretary to the Department of State and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Pat, who grew up in Marin County, remembered riding horses as a young girl on Jack London’s Sonoma Mountain ranch, and when her husband was the ambassador to Afghanistan, she remembered traveling with her kids to pick up a car in London and then driving it back to Kabul. Not many would attempt that drive today.

In the Sonoma Valley, Anne and her late husband, Otto Teller, would establish Oak Hill Farm and become trailblazers in the organic food and farm-to-table movements.

Later, all five would become leaders of community groups aiming to make Sonoma County a more sustainable place to live.

Dick was president of the Alexander Valley Association. Mary was a longtime member of the board of the Sonoma Land Trust and was involved in other philanthropies, including as a board member of Healdsburg Forever.

Ted served on the boards of Community Foundation Sonoma County and of the Sonoma Valley Fund. He was a leader in the campaign to pass and then the campaign to renew the Sonoma County open space tax. He led too many other conservation efforts to mention here.

Pat served on the board of the environmental stewardship group Land Paths and would lead the charge to save Sonoma Mountain from development.

Anne and her late husband were founding members of the Sonoma Land Trust, which has provided permanent protection for more than 58,000 acres of land since 1976.

Keep in mind: These are only the highlights.

In our lunches, it was a pleasure to listen to them talk about lifetimes of public service. They were older than we were, and that was OK. They had a lot to share. They were smart and funny and wise.

Sonoma County is a wonderful place to live. But it doesn’t happen by accident. It requires people to step up and set examples, while encouraging others to make smart choices.

In 2020, our lunches would be lost to the pandemic.

“This Shelter In Place is for the birds!” Dick told me in an email back then. “I prefer to be in the (Healdsburg) plaza but am stuck with this great view seen from my window seat (Mary’s favorite). What a strange feeling this all is!”

Mary’s favorite view takes in the sweep of the Alexander Valley and the mountains beyond.

Thanks to people like Dick and Mary, Pat and Ted, and Anne, we live in a place where successful agriculture and the beauty of our natural surroundings come together.

Dick wrote on the Hafner Vineyard website: “We have a deep sense of belonging to the land and a strong appreciation of those who tend the soil and bring forth its products.”

And so we give thanks for the friends who touched our lives, while we reflect upon how much we miss them.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at

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