Joan Eesley Allnutt
April 25, 1933 - June 19, 2020
Joan Eesley Allnutt, 87, died at her home in Napa.
Born Joan Emily Donald, she was raised in a Cleveland suburb. Her beloved father, Robert Babcock Donald, died of a heart attack when she was 17.
Joan attended Carnegie Mellon University and pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma, which she was involved with for the rest of her life. She majored in theater design, and classmates included Frank Gorshin, Bill Ball and Barbara Feldon.
Joan was a trailblazer for women in corporate workplaces. In the mid-1950s, she was assistant editor of employee publications for Stouffer's Restaurants. She then worked as assistant public-service director for Cleveland's WEWS-TV, followed by a radio-TV producer role at an ad agency. She then became head of the radio-TV bureau for Greater Cleveland United Appeal.
She and her first husband, Dan Eesley, visited San Francisco on their honeymoon, decided to stay, accepted a job transfer, and moved to Jordan Park. With their young children, the family briefly relocated to Santa Monica for another job transfer with IBM. Within a few months, they realized Southern California was not for them, and decamped back to San Francisco, where Joan lived for the next 18 years.
As a young mother, Joan returned to the workforce in 1971, unusual at the time. An early role was as part-time PR director for the San Francisco Zoological Society. One of Joan's PR projects involved creating awareness of Penny Patterson's work teaching Koko the gorilla American Sign Language. She also organized a speaking engagement for Jane Goodall at the California Academy of Sciences.
She then joined public-relations firms, including Terry Pimsleur & Co., until in 1976 she struck out on her own. Her primary focus was the food & restaurant industry, and clients included the California Seafood Association, the Graf Zeppelin at Ghirardelli Square, the Bratskellar and the national introduction of Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre. To celebrate the third anniversary of MacArthur Park, she organized a birthday party for the namesake song composed by Jimmy Webb. In addition to Webb, guests included Art Garfunkel, Michael Douglas, Mickey Dolenz, Boz Scaggs, Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo.
Other PR clients included Nolan Bushnell of Atari, Pop Rocks candy, the San Francisco Jewelry Mart, Greg Snazelle, a leader in commercial film production in Bay Area, and Stockton developer Alex G. Spanos, for whom she organized an annual fundraising dinner featuring his friends Bob Hope and Telly Savalas. She was legendarily clever at conceiving events to drive media coverage, such as recreating the Broderick-Terry duel, the last duel in California, for developer Lake Merced Hill.
Joan was one of the first female members of the San Francisco Press Club and was an advocate for female entrepreneurship and organizations. She was also a member of the Public Relations Round Table and the Metropolitan Club.
In the course of her work, she interacted with many personalities of the day, including Herb Caen, Dianne Feinstein, Diahann Carroll, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Gleason, Jane Fonda, Edith Head and Mother Teresa.
In 1984, she stepped back from her career and moved to Seattle. She lived in Seattle until 1994, when she returned to the Bay Area. She originally relocated to Greenbrae, eventually moving to San Rafael and then Sonoma.
Joan was an avid hobbyist. She designed crossword puzzles, and was published in The New York Times. She was an advanced knitter, producing many technically complex intarsia sweaters. She was also a miniaturist, producing close to twenty miniature rooms. She amassed an extensive collection of dolls and sold and traded at doll shows before moving her business to eBay and Etsy. She also collected handmade crèches from around the globe. She volunteered at the Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma.
Her first marriage ended in divorce. Her second marriage, to Henry Allnutt, ended with his death. She is survived by her daughters, Kate Grey of Phoenix and Beth MacLean and husband Bruce of Alameda, and three granddaughters, Abby Griswold of San Francisco and Ellie and Grace MacLean of Alameda. She is also survived by a sister, Roberta Meadors of Huntington, Ill.
Funeral services are private. The family thanks the staff of Continuum Hospice and Brookdale Senior Living, and Dr. Rony Kako and team, for their tender, loving care.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Jun. 23 to Jun. 28, 2020.