Lives of Style: Cherie Mohrfeld 

Cherie Mohrfeld’s Mona Lisa-smile radiates from the outer corners of her eyes, suffuses her face, takes a peek-a-boo upturn, tilting just so, at her mouth. "I never smile with my teeth." There’s wisdom in her outlook and a lifetime of experiences that emanate with the steady, focused empathy and friendship she proffers to others. There’s kindness, too. She’s an old soul inhabiting a youthful presence.

Dr. Cherie Mohrfeld, President of the board of trustees of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum — soon to become the Museum of Performance and Design — dedicated to collecting, preserving and making available to the public materials documenting the history of the performing arts, is excited about the future. On April 19, at the Four Seasons Hotel, PALM’s Arts Medallion Luncheon is honoring another stellar, powerhouse woman and one of my favorites: Diane B. (Dede) Wilsey, recognizing her outstanding leadership in the arts. Chaired by Master of Ceremonies Willie Brown, it’s the third anniversary of the event. Past honorees have included Gordon Getty and Stanlee Gatti. Cherie laughs, "It’s going to be wonderful."

Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, Cherie always knew her own mind: "As long as I can remember, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted tobe a doctor." She earned her bachelor’s and medical school degrees in Iowa before moving to San Francisco to do her residency at UCSF in anesthesiology.

"I always wanted to live here, even during my first trip [as a child] in July, 1959 — it was so foggy. Perhaps it’s the weather. I like colder weather. And the ease of getting around here."

Cherie lived in The City in the ’60s but stayed away from the "Summer of Love" crowd. "At parties I never ate the food. I was afraid of drugs. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t willing to risk."

Most of her career was spent at Davies Medical Center, a general hospital, primarily surgical. From the start, Cherie related to patients. "I remember one grandmother who said, ‘I want to see my grandchild grow up.’ After surgery, I received a letter from the woman’s grandchild with a photo, saying ‘Thank you for taking care of my grandmother.’" Cherie’s presence soon was in demand after one patient proclaimed, "‘I had the best trip through the Grand Canyon while I was asleep’ so her friends asked for me to be their anesthesiologist."

Cherie joined the Davies Medical executive committee, served as chief of staff, created a landmark Women’s Program, and served on the board of trustees.

But she wanted to give back. "A friend of mine I met in Tokyo said, ‘You can do anything you want.’"

Cherie joined the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary. "I was the only woman working full time. People wondered if I could fulfill my duties as an Auxiliary member. I co-chaired the Fashion Show Luncheon, was dinner chair[woman] opening night. I remember working until 10:00 at night, putting tables together until 2:00 in the morning and arriving to prepare for the event at 8 a.m. at City Hall. I show up when I make a commitment."

Cherie joined PALM’s board of trustees in 1999. The organization is currently housed in the Veterans Building, but now, with renovations under way,and with greater space requirements (the museum is in the process of acquiring David Hockney’s stage designs, and costume designs of Eiko the Academy Award-winning designer for "Dracula" and a Tony award nominee for "M Butterfly") up to 50,000 square feet, Cherie’s working on a campaign to raise $35 million to secure a new space and greater public access. It will have a small theater, virtual images, a design center and educational programs for schools, teachers and students of costume design. "A visionary concept where imagination and technology interconnect to create an innovative entertainment and educational experience for people of all ages."

Cherie’s residence, in Pacific Heights, where she’s lived since 2001, is both spare and refined, with light walls and furnishings accented by bright pillows and art from multiple trips abroad. Traditional-style furnishings coexist in the most delicate and symbiotic interplay with key paintings, such as "Central Park in the Winter," by Robert Maione, bright floral studies and African paintings she’s had commissioned on-site during her travels.

Her eyes light up. "It’s a good life. I’m very grateful."

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