Izzy Pivnick teacher, principal and crusading consumer hero to those who’ve been duped

Izzy Pivnick today, father and grandfather, still working to improve lives

Izzy Pivnick today, father and grandfather, still working to improve lives

Izzy Pivnick describes himself as an introvert. This is a little bewildering, really, since every step he ever took seems to be to reach out eagerly to others. He smiles and adds, “an introvert who loves people.” It is this enthusiasm for people that has leads him to success in whatever he chooses to do. Izzy has managed, when faced with a fork in the road, to take both.

He knew in Junior High School that he wanted to be a teacher and followed that dream to set a singular definition of what great teaching is.  His first choice was to teach physical Education but the swimming requirement and his fear of water forced him to backtrack a bit to the original fork in the road and take the other one. Mathematics, and this is what he taught officially for years, but the Phys Ed desire lingered, and one night at a school meeting he found a way bring Phys Ed back into his personal curriculum as he spontaneously offered to teach folk dancing. Six-hundred parents of the students followed him right into the yard to learn. Just a hint of the leadership abilities that would inform the rest of his professional and philanthropic life

Izzy talks about the student who corrected his pronunciation (yes, he welcomed it and admired her), about his early efforts to stem bullying, about visiting a student’s home to bring good news to a parent who usually got bad news, and about telling one inadequate teacher he was supervising that she would never make it as a teacher and his encouraging her to resign so she could follow her own dream instead of her father’s. He knows that people who go into teaching when they have no desire or talent at it do a disservice to themselves and their poor students. He still lunches regularly with some of his students from San Francisco’s Daniel Webster School.

For those of you who did not have the joy of Izzy Pivnick as a teacher or principal, you may know him from his days at KRON and then KPIX as a teacher of another sort. He took on the challenges of those who had been duped in some way or other by businesses. He went to bat for one man could not return his lemon of a television set because he had not kept the box, took on the cause of another whose new car fell off the hoist when it was being serviced and the company refused to make good on it, he came to the aid one sadly gullible woman was injected with plaster of paris instead of Botox. To hear how Izzy went about getting justice is to know that wherever he goes, this is a man whose leadership skills are as strong as ever and his problem solving abilities continued to work way past the classroom.

His love letters? He has stashes of them from children, grandchildren and others that he now realizes he should organize for his own joy and for whoever finds them in years to come. There may be one or two he would like to write at this stage of his life. Whatever letters he does write will surely be a part of Daniel Webster School history as well as his own.

Emilio Palame Peggy Lee’s pianist now a movie actor you probably know

Emilio Palame, musician, composer, actor and a whole lot more...

Emilio Palame, musician, composer, actor and a whole lot more…

When Emilio Palame was 7 years old, as the other kids were outside playing army, he was playing a piano he found in his neighbor’s garage. Yes, he found the piano, but more to the point, the piano found him and set him on the road he was meant to travel. He says, “I was one of those kids who begged for piano lessons.”

Emilio’s life is beautifully choreographed, one step leading fluidly into the next from his childhood in a Sicilian family, to his first piano teacher who got him to write his own songs, singing with a band in the 6th grade, carting his aunt’s organ to play at YMCA dances, his college degree in music theory and composition, his running the jazz ensemble program his junior and senior years with some of the greats of jazz and pop and his move to LA at 26 where he knew no one.

He floundered a bit, but one gig led to another until finally the call to come play for Peggy Lee. Ms. Lee had gotten rid of three pianists in 3 days. Emilio was number 4. It was a nerve-wracking failure rate, but his own sense of musical perfection was a match for hers, and he stayed with her for 11 years eventually becoming her band-leader. Emilio always had a passion for acting, and taking a leap from established success to the unknown, took courage. But, Emilio is a man comfortably in charge, so it is no surprise that as successful as he is in music, ditto in his acting career.

Emilio made a successful transition as a movie actor

Emilio made a successful transition as a movie actor

His love letter? He says the first name that always comes to him is that of his wife the exceptional artist Ellen Kobayashi. In the world of love letters, they have done something so intriguing and emotionally clever that it is worth appropriating it into your own life. And, because complicated relationships can be the basis for some of the best love letters, there is the possibility of some to his father.

Emilio with his wife the exceptionally talented artist Ellen Kobayashi

Emilio with his wife the exceptionally talented artist Ellen Kobayashi

Force of nature that Emilio his, this is an ongoing life story that is not only a fabulous piece of theater in its own right but a riveting chunk of American music history, so best to hear it in his own voice, the voice you may well recognize from his acting roles.

Kathy Buckley’s comedy and the power of pairing it with compassion and determination to help others


Kathy Buckley actor, comedian, motivational speaker, author and one of the funniest women you will ever meet

Kathy Buckley actor, comedian, motivational speaker, author and one of the funniest women you will ever meet

Kathy Buckley, as you most likely know, is one of the funniest women to hit the comedy stage. Not such a funny start as she came into this world with one life-threatening problem and at the age of 4 suffered another, both of which had the doctors assuring the parents that she was going to be a slow person. She learned early never to tell people what they can and can’t do and knows first hand that, “The only limitation you’ll ever to have in life is your attitude.”

Did she choose comedy or did comedy choose her? Good question with complicated issues at work here. She was a massage exercise therapist. “Everyone kept saying laughter is the best medicine. Unfortunately I was making fun of the people on my table and made them laugh – and then I could get into their muscles and really work.” She talks about her client the actress and comedian Geri Jewell and how the friendship that developed led Kathy right down the road she was meant to take. “She came to me and so did three others with a newspaper article Stand Up Comics Take a Stand, a contest to raise money for cerebral palsy. I did not know anything about comedy, I don’t hear comedy, did not understand it. Deaf comedy and hearing humor are very different.” But she entered the contest to raise money because she thought it would help her friend Geri. Her whole life was lip-reading so she rented videos to learn about comedy but, oops, they were not hearing captioned, and Robin William’s lips moved to fast to read while Whoopie Goldberg did not move hers at all.

Learn about how and why she was chosen by Tony Robbins to speak for him, about her work with deaf children’s theater, her own motivational speaking, her acting and her writing. She says, “You never know what seeds you are planting in whose life. It is not me, it is the holy spirit I am just the vessel. I just walk all over the place and say, ‘Okay lord I’m here if there is one child here who needs to hear your voice let the words roll of my tongue.’” Her clearly stated goal is to promote the ability and not the disability.                               Kathy Buckley's comedy and the power of pairing it with compassion and determination to help others
Kathy Buckley’s ability to make people laugh is based on an unshakable compassion and intelligence that makes the world a better place where people can shine their brightest. In addition to the vast swaths of society that Kathy is watching over and committed to helping in any way she can, she takes care of the parents from whom she had every right to walk away. She says, “I don’t need a mom and dad now but they need a daughter. Forgiving sets you free.”

Her love letters? Every night to God for starters. But there is more. Get a box of tissues and listen to all of this and more, including how she now communicates with her father. Letting you weep and crack up at the same time is part of the skillful world of comedy at its best and a generous gift from Kathy Buckley.

Lee Gant knows that knitting can help us find ourselves as we lose ourselves in the craft

Lee Gant knows that knitting can help us find ourselves as we lose ourselves in the craftLee Gant. That should actually do it. Just her name. And for those of you who know her already ether personally or through her book Love In Every Stitch; Stories of Knitting and Healing you already know what that name carries with it.

For those of you who have not yet had the joy of meeting Lee, here is a remarkable opportunity for you to hear her story and how she came to be, after too many years of torment and addiction, the knitter, the artist, the authority, the teacher, the designer and the healer that she is. She was, one not so fine day, in the midst of interlocking crises and simply on the way to hunt up some cigarettes when two women invited her into their knitting store and changed her life.

It is no surprise that Lee has turned to the art of knitting as a large part of her own healing, and no surprise that she is able to use this craft to lead others to a better place. There is the mathematical orderliness of it, and as the careful knitting of separate strands makes a solid object of beauty and warmth, Lee has taken the frayed strands of her own life and woven them back into something solid and beautiful. Her story in her own voice is best for the candor and humor that underlie an unimaginable journey.

Lee instructing young teen

Lee instructing young teen

Her love letter? As with most people there are so many possibilities. People who helped her with their gifts of trust and love, people who hindered her with abuse and negligence, her children whose love has seen her through some frightful and frightening times, people who come to her knitting shop to learn the craft and share intimate stories of knitting and healing. And, there is Lee herself who deserves a love letter from, yes, Lee herself for the strength and extreme emotional generosity as well as the sum total and variety of miracles she has fashioned in this world. Maybe she will do them all.

SF artist Joseph Branchcomb’s ancestors rebelled against slave owners and the Mafia

Joseph Branchcomb in SF

Joseph Branchcomb in SF

Joseph Mack Branchcomb, a San Francisco artist whose work you may be fortunate enough to know, is the repository of a family history worth knowing, the memory to recall it and the generosity to tell it. Joe’s heritage is one of strength that changed history. His ancestors knew they were not put on this earth to exist at the whim of the slave-owners or the Mafia who would dictate how they lived and what they were not allowed to accomplish.

Joseph Branchcomb self portrait

Joseph Branchcomb self portrait


Joseph Branchcomb's portrait of his Great Grandmother Annie Wanzer Allen

Joseph Branchcomb’s portrait of his Great Grandmother Annie Wanzer Allen

His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a slave in Virginia who escaped and fled to Canada (with sheriff’s posses shooting at him all the way to the border), yet unflinchingly returned 19 times to free the other slaves of that plantation. His father’s side carries a different bravery of self-determination, business success and escaping the threat of the Mafia.

Best to hear this significant piece of American and personal history, as one memory leads to another, in Joe’s own voice laced with laughter, love and a definite echo of amazement at what his family survived.

His love letter? Joe has an unusual opportunity to fill in some gaps in what has been left out of the American history books. Maybe his love letter will be to bring some very powerful ancestors up to date and let them know how the Branchcomb family is doing in American and Canada. Let’s hope he does it.

Yellow Cab’s Jim Gillespie answers, with humor and grace, some harsh opinions about his company

San Francisco's Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab

San Francisco’s Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab

Jim Gillespie, president and general manager of Yellow Cab used to drive a cab in San Francisco. As did is father, so Jim has solid second-generation understanding of good manners and the need for human response over automated answering systems that leave people feeling abandoned and angry. Translate that to gracious people answering calls.

As it now stands, when a person who called a cab does not answer the phone that signals its arrival somewhere outside, Jim knows that assuming no one is home is not acceptable. He wants to see that cab driver get out of the car and go ring the doorbell like “we always used to do.” And, yes, that gives the driver a chance to help an elderly person off the curb and into the car. He wants to see drivers show the respect of asking their riders if they have a preferred route to their destination. He wants to see a lot of improvements.

Jim talks, with affection and respect, about Yellow Cab, its history, who his drivers are, what it used to be, what it is now, what needs to be done to improve it, and what he intends to do about it. Jim is a man at ease with truth, never defensive, with no impulse to justify regretful behavior, eager to take responsibility and with a deep sense of the human kindness we all need to feel safe. You don’t find that everywhere today.

Jim Gillespie is in charge. You can see it in his face and hear it in his voice both of which carry strength and integrity. As for the love letter connection here? This one is so easy. He deserves them by the boatload.

Shannon Weber’s love you2 makes it easy to give love get love

Fork in the road? Why not take both. Shannon Weber did, because the two roads that presented themselves to her were braided together by an indestructible thread of love and a desire to strengthen others.

Shannon Weber head of HIVE and she loves you 2

Shannon Weber head of HIVE and she loves you 2

Shannon is the director of HIVE, the UCSF program that is the hub of positive and sexual reproductive health that cares for HIV positive pregnant women. The process is a complicated response to the simple desire of HIV infected men and women to have children. Listen to Shannon talk about how couples can now minimize the chance of spreading the virus to each other and to their babies and how they can now live full and loving lives as parents without being isolated from their present or cut off from their future by AIDS.

Shannon’s enthusiasm for the well-being of others has helped build healthy and loving families in more ways than one. She used to leave little tokens to her daughters so they could have a piece of her with them while she was traveling for work. They assured her they needed a piece of her even when she was home, and presto change-o, Love You 2, a program that scatters the power of love in the form of easy to deliver and easy to read notes was born. To listen to Shannon talk about each of these programs is, in a word, uplifting and best heard for some surprising details in Shannon’s own voice.

San Francisco artist Toby Klayman is up on what’s up and willing to share more of it

San Francisco artist Toby Klayman is up on what's up and willing to share more of itToby Klayman’s life has been and still is one of constant pivotal decisions. She seems always to have been steps ahead of the crowd with her unique, firmly held and life-changing viewpoints. You may remember her declining her parents’ invitation to make a “good” marriage, her standing firm in her decision to be an artist, her move to New York, her experience as a young unwed birth-mother who placed her beautiful daughter for adoption after 5 days, the letter of regret she wrote to the baby she held close in her heart for 27 years when she legally adopted the baby she gave birth to so they could be mother and daughter again.

Toby is back to talk about other essential decisions such as moving her community college art classes to Fort Mason when it was nothing more than a forsaken US Army post and seeing the profound value of computers and pushing to install the first one in Fort Mason despite the resistance of other faculty members. She talks about her years of teaching not just fine art but the importance of giving her students some surprising practical and hi-tech tools so they can live successfully as artists.          San Francisco artist Toby Klayman is up on what's up and willing to share more of it

She wants her students to shine by heeding the call of their own passion over paying attention to what others say or require of them. Toby Klayman is totally adaptable and up on what’s up in life, and, because she knows how to see the value of things as they come down the pike, snapped right into social media to reach a world-wide audience. Listening to her talk is a lesson in what it means to succeed.

Toby Klayman artist whose life is a work of genius

Toby Klayman

Toby Klayman

Because Toby Judith Klayman is a San Francisco artist of such experience, productivity, originality, generosity depth and breadth that it is hard to capture her in just a few words here, this is the first of three visits with Toby.

She knew early that she wanted to be an artist, a career as far removed as possible from the path of the particular proper marriage that her mother had chosen for her. Toby says her parents were sorely disappointed, but a calling is a calling, so left Rhode Island for Massachusetts and eventually to San Francisco where the gallery owners received her with more than enthusiasm. She lived between San Francisco and Greece, and spent decades  teaching art at SF City College.

Toby at work in her studio

Toby at work in her studio

Life was beautiful and brilliant in so many ways, yet there was more than an echo of sorrow in her heart over the baby girl she placed for adoption and missed every day. To hear Toby talk about this is a lesson in so many kind of love that it is understandable only when you hear it from Toby herself. She talks about the letter she wrote to be placed in the court files in case her daughter should ever search for her birth-mother. It is a love letter of regret and longing. It is a letter that changed two lives once again forever.

Toby, as always, shares herself and her love for both her talented and beautiful daughter, Susan Harris O’Connor, and her husband, the artist Joseph Mack Branchcomb, with total candor, humor and power in a way that is uniquely Toby Klayman.

Blair Webb wonderful writer and thinker wants to be known beyond her disability

Blair with actor and comedian Geri Jewell at RoboCamp fundraiser

Blair with actor and comedian Geri Jewell at RoboCamp fundraiser       photo by Michael Hansel



Blair Webb is a 24 year-old breath of fresh air with talents and plans. You know at first glance that you are in the presence of intelligence because it is clearly visible in her smile and reflected in her eyes. Her assistant, Megan Gill, who spends five days a week with Blair and accompanies her to school, says, “Blair is in a wheelchair and has cp and people have a hard time understanding her.  She is super-smart and witty.”

Megan is essentially a loving and meticulous simultaneous translator who found this job on the internet. In answer to how Megan understands everything Blair says so easily, Megan says rather casually, “Because we have talked a lot. It just takes time.” With Megan’s help you get the words, but even without Megan’s help you get the smile in Blair’s heart, and the enthusiasm in her every thought that reflect the depth of her abilities.

Blair is an exceptional writer, joyful, smooth and clear. In high school she says she “knew she could write but people did not believe in me like they do here at PASW” where she has attended classes for 5 years, and where, thanks to John Paizis, every talent can shine brightly. Blair is very clear that is “because it is about looking at the abilities and not the disabilities.” Listen to Blair talk about her acting, writing, college studies (sociology), and about her plans to create some sort of program for children with disabilities. And stay until the end when she pops back to share a fabulous business plan for American Girl.

Blair hopes to spend her life writing plays. “It has always been something I can do on my own.” What would she like people to know about her? What is the most important thing to her about life? No one has ever asked her that before but she is ready with an answer, “ For people not to judge me by my disability. And, to try to get to know me as a person.”

Her love letter? Maybe yes and maybe no, but she is thinking about it. A letter from this loving smart young woman would be something to keep forever in the treasure box!