Most people are thrilled to get a couple gifts in life. Susan Hemphill Wigert had an abundance of them. Susan was smart and competent. She had good taste. She was athletic and adventurous. Fun-loving and good-humored. And she could make and keep friends for a lifetime.
Susan was born to Iona and Robert Hemphill in New York City on September 29, 1948. Before long the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where Susan’s brother, William Hemphill, was born in 1950. By the time she graduated from Lincoln High School in 1966, she already had many cherished friends.
Susan enrolled in the University of Oregon in 1967. She joined Kappa Alpha Theta and made more friends. One of those lucky women was me, a transplant from Kansas. When Susan invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving, I was thrilled, both to have her as my friend and to have a place to go.
In 1971, Susan graduated with a B.A. in English. Then she moved to San Francisco, where we were roommates. A year later, Susan met Bill Wigert at Harrington’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration. On their first date, the couple took a trip to Point Reyes, where they fell in love with each other and the place.
Bill often attended softball games of the Dancing Bears, a fledgling team started by a small group of us at an advertising agency. Bill cheered as Susan captured grounders that she threw to first base.
“She always played positions where a strong arm was needed,” Bill said.
The following winter, Susan and I headed to Lake Tahoe to ski the slopes of Squaw Valley; Bill frequently joined us. Susan’s abilities stood out.
“She was the most beautiful skier,” Bill said. “She would slide through steep mogul runs that looked like impenetrable mountains to me.”
When Susan returned to San Francisco, she worked at Rolling Stone magazine. She became the assistant to art director Roger Black, another dear friend. When the magazine moved to New York City in 1977, she moved there too. Later she came back to San Francisco, and she and Bill moved in together.
In 1980, Susan, Bill and other friends recreated one of the iconic images of the Old West. The Last Great Trail Drive would move a herd of cattle from California to Montana. Susan was a driving force in the venture.
The group adopted wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management. These stallions, fierce and unbroken, were gathered at a California ranch. The cowboys picked out the bay, the roan and the buckskin as the likeliest candidates to be trained. The fourth, a large, gnarly and strangely shaggy-coated sorrel, appeared too formidable.
The cowboys were thrown repeatedly. Then into the corral rode Susan, sitting nonchalantly aboard the bareback sorrel as she guided him with knee and voice.
Meanwhile, Bill had bought a small cabin in Inverness, which he transformed into “the magical treehouse.” Then, despite the flood of January 1982—which left no road, water, electricity or telephones—Bill and Susan decided to open Blackthorne Inn. Susan managed to open by Memorial Day. Later the couple were married there. Susan also started Black Heron Inn in Point Reyes Station, where she and Bill lived beginning in 1990.
A fellow innkeeper from those early days, Tom Balogh, of the Holly Tree Inn in Inverness Park, remembers getting together with the Wigerts and other early innkeepers. “We were a support system,” Tom said. “We talked about dealing with the public, privacy issues, and of course the dreaded double-booking.”
Susan was a pioneer. She joined a handful of innkeepers to form the Inns of Point Reyes and later helped start Bed and Breakfast Inns of Northern California, the first regional association. She was a founder of the California Association of Bed and Breakfast Inns, and was the first female president of the West Marin Chamber of Commerce.
Again, colleagues became friends. Doris Ferrando, owner of Fernando’s Hideaway in Point Reyes Station with her husband, Greg, described Susan as “a wonderful soul and wonderful friend.”
Susan loved to travel far and wide. She and Bill established more indelible friendships in Latin America at annual conferences of an association of intellectual property lawyers. She loved hikes on McClures Beach, rafting trips on the Stanislaus River and extended visits to Maui, where she and Bill watched a multitude of sunsets from their lanai.
She had a long battle with cancer, but she managed to live longer and with a better quality of life than her doctors predicted. She passed away on August 12.
“Susan showed amazing spirit through this last ordeal, and continued to live life one minute at a time,” Roger Black said. “I’ll miss her, but will always have that laugh and that California smile in my memory.”
Her brother Bill said he is imagining Susan where “there’s a great Great Spirit and our mother is taking care of her.”
Susan leaves behind her husband, J. William Wigert, and brother, William Hemphill and his wife, Ann Grymes; Bill’s son Chad and his wife, Yvette; Bill’s son Scot and his wife, Krista, and their children, Sienna and Griffin. A celebration of Susan will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on October 27 at the Inverness Yacht Club, followed by a potluck from 4 to 6 p.m. Please bring your photographs and favorite stories.