December 1, 2010
Pamela Tompkins Hunter died Sunday, November 28, 2010, in the Napa Valley home she shared with her life partner Carl Doumani, who was at her side.
Born September 25, 1948, in San Louis Obispo, California, to Edgar Logan Tompkins and Hazel Herrington Tompkins, Pam’s life was driven by a deeply felt passion for education, compelling human stories, and the power of the written word. She wove these together as a teacher, journalist, publicist, and lifelong advocate of girls and women’s causes.
Pam spent her early girlhood in Taft, California, where her father was employed by Standard Oil and in charge of establishing land leases. He died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 52, just days before Pam’s second birthday. Pam and her mother later moved to Bakersfield, California.
At Bakersfield High School, Pam earned national honors with the Quill and Scroll Society and held editing positions on the Blue and White Newspaper. She developed an early and lifelong commitment to community advocacy and volunteerism participating in the Inter-Racial Council; teaching English as a second language to migrant workers and Saturday school for Bakersfield underprivileged children; and working in a leadership capacity for the city’s Arts Council. After studying journalism at UC Berkeley, Pam taught at a San Francisco Peninsula school founded by Virginia Lehr and based on A.S. Neil’s Summerhill education theory.
Pam arrived in the Napa Valley in the 1970s and began her career there working with Napa College’s Deans, Paul Ash and John Mehrens, to establish the school’s first extended day program. They also collaborated to enrich the region’s esteemed writer’s conference with talented authors including M.F.K. Fisher and Herb Gold. Additionally, she advocated for and contributed to the development of the Women’s Awareness Program. Pam then returned to her passion for writing and joined the Scripps League-owned Napa Register journalist. She was proudest of her reporting on the topics of affordable housing and grassroots community planning.
Pam is perhaps best known as the founder of Hunter Public Relations and Marketing, which she established in 1978. The agency brought together two pursuits that gave Pam great joy and satisfaction: writing and advocacy. She led her firm with passion and discipline as it grew to become one of the largest in the region, ultimately serving a broad range of international clients and maintaining offices in San Francisco, New York, and Napa Valley. Pam and her colleagues pioneered an approach to public relations that is today’s standard. Her campaigns utilized an array of strategies and were designed for immediate and long-term effects. Hunter PR was respected nationally for its groundbreaking work introducing and promoting luxury wine and food and hospitality products and experiences. The agency was known among members of the national media for its integrity: a clear sign of the unique respect she earned is the number of esteemed, award-winning journalists who were among Pam’s closest friends during the last thirty years of her life.
Pam understood that the magic of a story was often hidden beneath the surface, and her inquisitive nature allowed her to reveal the salient kernel that brought her clients’ stories to life. She knew that the childhood food memories of a chef, the youthful travels of a winemaker, the origin of a rare spice, the weave of a beautiful fabric all held the makings of an authentic story that would grab the public’s attention. Pam relished her role as a voice for her clients, and found great satisfaction in bringing their stories to the world. She helped them build successful, sustainable businesses, and in many cases also helped protect their legacies for future generations.
Always one to engage on multiple levels, Pam, along with Jerry Ann DiVecchio, then Editor-In-Chief of Sunset Magazine, co-founded the Bay Area Chapter of the international organization Les Dames d’Escoffier. Today this organization enjoys a robust and active membership with ties to the international food and wine community.
Work that gave her particular satisfaction involved building special relationships, strategic innovation or a combination of both. Fond memories include the creation and promotion of Cakebread Cellars’ American Harvest Workshop, early national campaigns for the Napa Valley Vintners Association, and promotion of the seminal years of the Napa Valley Wine Auction (now Auction Napa Valley). As a devotee of sparkling wine, Pam was grateful for the opportunity to work with the Ferrer Family, of Spain’s international sparkling wine holdings, and the Davies Family of Napa Valley on their family-owned Schramsberg Vineyards.
After more than 25 years running the agency, Pam closed Hunter Public Relations and Marketing in order to focus on her true passions--storytelling and advocacy. Through Studio 707, the new agency she founded, Pam accepted just a handful of clients with whom she felt a very close affinity. The scaling back of her business allowed Pam to pursue another passion: travel. She traveled to new locales and revisited places that had been special sources of revelation and inspiration. Pam always considered her initial visit to Japan a pivotal point in her life. Subsequent visits reaffirmed her connection to the country and its people. She deeply admired the Japanese diet, aesthetic, and generosity of spirit, which all resonated with her own point of view. She went so far as to say that she might have happily spent the last few years of her life in Japan. Pam ran Studio 707, and travelled, until closing the business in 2010 to attend to her health.
While Pam lived her life as a dedicated, entrepreneurial career woman, she also enjoyed a wide array of interests with a particular passion for art. She credited James Turrell as the most influential artist in her life because, she said recently, of “his way of seeing.” She was also intrigued and inspired by a series of clothing designers she preferred to think of as “fashion artists” who, she said, “inform the way we live our lives and the way we feel about ourselves every day. They have affected my thinking, my imagination, and my way of seeing beauty because in a sense clothing becomes a second skin.”
Pam had a broad and unending appetite for literature and poetry ranging from Emily Dickenson to William Salter. Anais Nin captured Pam’s belief about the power of art when she wrote, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”
Her story would not be complete without acknowledging Pam’s unique gifts as a raconteur, which through her inquisitive nature she came by honestly and which made her a wonderfully engaging and entertaining companion. Complementing her curiosity and sense of humor was her uncanny knack for retaining and recalling the details of almost everything she learned. She never forgot a name, a scent, a flavor, a texture, or a particular shade of blue. Among those who knew for her either a long or short time, none will forget this particularly rare and endearing quality.
Pam saw connections - between people, things, concepts. She could find the commonality between herself and the incredible variety of individuals who were lucky enough to come into contact with her. Pam brought intense focus to her conversations, and she was a superb listener. She had more than a circle of friends. She had several interconnecting circles from all walks of life that created a broad network. She will be keenly missed by a very great many.
Pam spent the last twenty years of her life with Carl Doumani as her steady companion. She is survived by her stepchildren, Brenda, Lisa, Brigitta and Sonya Hunter, daughters of Ralph Edward Hunter, her first husband who pre-deceased her, and by the children of Carl Doumani: Lissa, Leslie, Kayne and Jared Doumani, and granddaughter Imogen.
Pam’s service on the Board of Directors of the Oxbow School, which offers transformative experiences through creativity and the arts to middle school and high school students, brought together many of her primary interests: education, the arts, and advocacy. Pam established a scholarship fund in her name in order to make the opportunity available to those gifted young women who could not afford tuition. Those wishing to make donations in Pam's memory may send checks of any amount to: The Oxbow School Pamela Hunter Scholarship Fund, c/o Phoebe Brookbank, Development Department, The Oxbow School for Visual Arts, 440 Third Street, Napa CA 94558.
A private memorial for family members will be hosted at the Hunter-Doumani home. A celebration of Pam’s life will be held in early June 2011.