Edris Cole, who brought style and wit to the beach, dies at 86

06/11/2015

Longtime West Marin resident Edris “Bunny” Cole, who served over 30 years in a variety of administrative positions at Audubon Canyon Ranch, died on May 27, in Iowa. She was 86 years old.

Though she spent much of her adult life in West Marin, Edris was born and bred in San Francisco. Her father took the name “Edris” from the character of an angelic maiden in “Ardath,” a popular British novel by Marie Corelli. 

Young Edris attended George Washington High School before enrolling in San Francisco State University, where she majored in history and drama. She had a knack for the thespian arts, a skill she demonstrated in such roles as Viola in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for which she received rave reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Described as a “classic San Franciscan,” Edris comported herself in only the latest fashions. On the opening day of the Golden Gate Bridge, in 1937, Edris was spotted strolling across the brand new pedestrian walkway in a lavish flamenco costume.

A student of Latin, with which she was inclined to pepper her conversations, Edris’s motto was “De gustibus non est disputandum”—meaning, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.”

Edris worked part-time as a model, and was voted “Best Legs” by her high school classmates. Her good friend Najean Witt recalled that Edris was never without an ample contingent of friends. 

“She was a very bright young lady,” said Najean, who attended a nearby high school in San Francisco. “She was not only bright, but was very humorous.”

The combination of good looks and sharp wit caught the eye of Harry Cole, a handsome, charismatic young man with an acute gift for storytelling. The two began their romance during World War II, their daughter, Claudia Bluhm, said. 

“Harry and Bunny were pulled together by chemistry and the historic moments that crescendoed in the rush of altruistic emotion at the [war’s] end, as dramatic a stage as any they’d ever seen in a Hollywood movie,” she said.

For her part, Edris turned down a screen test in Hollywood. Instead, she married Harry.

Together, the couple regaled close friends with jokes and stories at rollicking San Francisco establishments like The Say When, The Black Kettle, The Hungry I and Original Joe’s. During that time, Harry used his savings to purchase a clothing store on Fillmore Street, where he designed zoot suits until Edris gave birth to Claudia in 1951, followed two years later by the birth of a son, Mark. 

Afetr 11 years in an old Victorian off a short road called Liberty Street, they left the city to move into an Eichler-designed home in Lucas Valley. There, Edris thrived.

She volunteered on the board of the homeowners association and threw herself into mothering. 

After moving to Stinson Beach five years later, Edris and Harry put the kids through Tam High and ushered them into college—Mills College in Oakland for Claudia, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, for Mark—before their marriage ended in the mid-1970s.

By then, Edris had joined Audubon Canyon Ranch as an administrative coordinator, and it was there she found her calling.

“The ranch became the structure of her life,” said Claudia, who lives in San Francisco. “She really took it on and it was a big, big part of her life for many years.”

For over three decades, Edris ran the preserve’s bookstore, greeted visitors, coordinated activities for over 500 volunteers and moonlighted as an executive secretary. For most of that time, she worked closely with Audubon’s then-executive director, Skip Schwartz.

“For many years, she was the face of A.C.R.,” said Mr. Schwartz, who now works as the executive director of West Marin Senior Services. “She was pretty much unflappable. There’s a kind of grace you need when dealing with the public, and Edris had that. The lady had class.”

After separating from Harry, Edris moved to Bolinas temporarily, then returned to Stinson Beach and lived in a Seadrift apartment until 2006. Throughout that entire period, Edris never owned a car, and became renowned among her friends as an intrepid hitchhiker. 

A testament to her adventurous spirit, Edris hitched rides for short distances—such as the mile or so stretch from her apartment to her job at Audubon Canyon—as well as long sojourns all across West Marin.

A Stinson Beach neighbor, Peter Asmus, remembered how, at 5 p.m., Edris had a habit of exiting her apartment complex where, he said, she would “sit defiantly outside with her glass of wine.” Mr. Asmus played in a rock band called Space Debris, and the first time he met Edris he asked if she would like to attend a party his band was throwing at the town’s community center.

“Do you guys sound like the Jefferson Airplane?” Edris asked. He said that they did.

“I love the Jefferson Airplane,” she said, sipping on wine. 

Another friend, Dave Shuford, said Edris defied conventionality and had an infectious sense of humor. She also loved to travel.

“Every year, she’d go off to Europe on tour,” said Mr. Shuford, a friend and senior biologist at Point Blue Conservation Science. “She loved to do that.”

Edris traveled extensively in Europe, and in 1988 she penned an article for the Marin Independent-Journal about a trip to Turkey. But it was the beach that Edris called home. 

“That was her hub for the second half of her life,” said Mark, who lives in Iowa. “The beach was where she lived for a long, long time. She was a fixture out there, for sure.”

In 1993, when she was 65, Edris retired from Audubon Canyon, though she continued to work there part-time for another 10 years, even after moving to a retirement home in Mill Valley. During the last month of her life, Edris kept the medical staff in an Iowa hospital in stitches with her ever-sharp wit.

“Her acting persona was always with her,” Claudia said. 

 

Edris Cole is survived by her daughter, Claudia; her son-in-law, Bob; her son, Mark; and her daughter-in-law, Livia. She is pre-deceased by her brother, Bruce. 

 

The family requests that any donations in her honor be made to Audubon Canyon Ranch, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.