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The Docent

By Steefenie Wicks
A dictionary explains the definition of ‘docent’ as a person who leads or guides tours especially through a museum or art gallery.   That being said, one would then refer to Jeanne Fidler as the Grand Dame Docent of the Sausalito Historical Society.  Born in Birmingham, England on August 29, 1932, she has been part of the Sausalito community since 1972.  She not only takes you on tour in the Historical Society but also inspires you with her knowledge of Sausalito and this can be most intriguing when she wears one of her extraordinary hats. Jeanne Fidler is art and inspiration; sharing an afternoon with her is a real adventure in learning about Sausalito.
When asked how did she become involved with the Sausalito Historical Society, she tells how the Society became involved with her. Having always loved tea parties, she attended one that was being presented in what was then the Victorian room that was part of the Historical Society.   Everyone was dressed in Victorian dress and the costumes the women wore were just glorious and they really impressed her.  She was approached by a young man in Victorian dress who asked if she was enjoying herself and she said that she was very impressed by the event, at which point he said that you should come and join us.   That young man was Phil Frank and the year was 1991.
Jeanne began working as a docent with the founder of the Historical Society, Jack Tracy.   She recalls his explanation of how he founded the Historical Society.  He was driving to work one day and just as he was about to cross the bridge into San Francisco, he pulled his car over and the idea of starting a historical society hit him. He turned back into Sausalito to begin the project of putting a Historical Society together, which she believed was his dream.
She goes on to say the learning under Jack Tracy was a grand experience because he was so knowledgeable about Sausalito’s history and could answer any question one might ask.  He trained her by asking her to look for things and bring them to him and that’s how she learned where things were kept.   But the one thing he insisted upon was that a good docent should always treat people with respect and make them always feel welcome at the Historical Society
When asked what she feels is one of the most positive things about the Historical society she thinks back to how she has dealt with the past because she does not mind dealing with the past and memories of those that have passed.  When speaking of those that have passed, her most favorite memories are of working with Phil Frank because he was so full of life and so loved Sausalito and its community.
She recalls that Frank did so much to entertain the community and then to help others understand the history of where they live.    She goes on to explain how both Jack Tracy and Phil Frank had the most influence on the Historical Society and put forth the most in projects to involve the whole town.  
Among her favorite Sausalito characters, Jeanne describes Sally Stanford as a very striking woman who always had her long cigarette holder with a smoking cigarette and how her hair was always put up in an Edwardian style. It  was Sally who donated all of the Victorian furniture to the Historical Society.   Fidler goes on to say that Sally Stanford was only one of those she remembers, along with Sterling Hayden, Allan Watts, Varda and many other talented people who lived here and the history they have left behind, and how it is her job to help them stay remembered.
The biggest change that Jeanne has seen in the Society is how few people now come in to research.  She tells of days when the Research Room was always full with people researching their homes in Sausalito and their families, or the famous artists and writers who lived here.   Then there is the waterfront and the many boats and boat builders whose long, spirited written histories are on file in the Historical Society.  Jeanne feels that most research is now done online, thus decreasing the number of visitors.
Fidler is not only a docent but has also served on the Sausalito Historical Society’s Board of Directors.  She has written for the Historical Society’s newsletter and
has been part of the Society’s school programs with Susan Frank.  When her friend and former Mayor of Sausalito  Amy Belser, passed she wrote her a poem to honor her, which proclaimed:  

        Amy Belser, a woman to love for all reasons.
        Here are some of the reasons, as I knew her for 20 years.
        Amy was a natural beauty, always easy to look at
        for her eyes were blue and true.

        Amy was composed; she always knew what she wanted to do,
        Why she wanted it, and how to get it!  She was together always.
        Amy was genuine in her like for all people.  
        She always did her best for you.

        Amy never had loud words but effective quiet ones.
        Her achievements were many.  A shy winner.

        Amy enjoyed life, loved parties, events, parades,
        Visiting sister cities, and cutting ribbons.

Fidler says, “Memories, wonderful memories.  That’s what the Sausalito Historical Society is all about and that’s what it has become for me, and you can put that in print.”

Jeanne Fidler with the display of Phil Frank cartoons at the Historical Society’s Exhibit Room.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

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