A memorial service will be held at Grace Cathedral for Erika
Michaela Brunar Hills, a prominent arts patron and philanthropist
of San Francisco and the Napa Valley who was killed in a car
crash Wednesday on Silverado Trail in Napa. She was 61.
Mrs. Hills, the wife of Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers coffee
family, was widely regarded for her original style, creative
flair and voracious love of life. Both an athlete and an
intellect who spoke several languages fluently, she was an expert
skier and appeared in the film "Downhill Racer" with Robert Redford.
In 1994, she opened Erika Hills Antiques, a popular antiques and
interior design store in St. Helena.
She loved to entertain and frequently opened her home to host
international artists, including Austrian artist Gottfried
Helnwein and Spanish-Argentine mezzo soprano Marisa Martins.
Mrs. Hills was born on Valentine's Day 1944 in Graz, Austria, and
graduated from the University of Vienna, where she studied
physical education. After receiving her skiing instructor's
license, she also became a flight attendant for Pan American
airlines during the off-season.
During a trip to the United States, she was encouraged to visit
Colorado. In 1970, she moved there and worked at the Aspen Ski
School for seven years. After a brief move to Argentina, Mrs.
Hills relocated to Mill Valley in 1977. Soon after, she met her
future husband through Walter Landor, the Bavarian industrial
Her husband is a co-founder of Grgich Hills Cellar in Rutherford
and principal of Hills Capital Management, a commodities trading
firm in San Francisco.
The Hillses married in 1978 in the historic chapel on the grounds
of Lucinda and Charles Crocker's valley home. The couple had two
children, Austin of San Francisco and Justin, a university student.
Mrs. Hills became a U.S. citizen in 1993 and maintained dual
citizenship because she never wanted to abandon her Austrian roots.
Family and friends were saddened by her untimely death.
In July, the Hillses hosted a luncheon at their Napa home, La
Encantada, for Roots of Peace, an international humanitarian
organization that works to eradicate land mines, returning the
land to agricultural use. A peace garden was planted with
grapevines at the event.
"Erika didn't just plant peace," said Roots of Peace founder and
Director Heidi Kuhn, "She got Nobel Laureate Jody Williams to
kneel next to her in the dirt and help."
Mrs. Hills was a chairwoman of numerous galas over the years and
served on many boards. Most recently, she served on the advisory
council of the Land Trust of Napa County, Cal Performances in
Berkeley, and the Seven Tepees Youth Program. She and her husband
were founding members of the Copia center for food and wine in Napa.
In November, Mrs. Hills and Ann Getty served as co-chairwomen for
Cal Performances' opening-night gala celebration for the Bolshoi
"Wherever she was, it was fun," said Robert Cole, director of Cal
Performances. "The planning was as much fun as the actual event."
Getty, reached in Hawaii where she was vacationing with family,
had heard the news but found it hard to believe. "Erika was so
full of life," she said. "It was such fun to work with someone as
enthusiastic and hardworking as she was. She was a great lover of
music. Of all the jolly, wonderful people. She was tremendous.
She will be missed."
"The thing that made Erika was her marvelous joie de vivre," said
Margo de Wildt. "She lived life to the fullest and made a room
Former Mayor Willie Brown said Mrs. Hills often joined him and
Harry de Wildt at their famed weekly lunches at Le Central.
"She was always of great spirit," said Brown. "When she joined
us, one thing was for sure -- she'd never let us pay for the
Grgich Chardonnay. She was as earthy as you get -- there was
nothing about her that evidenced any phoniness."
She counted among her friends many artists and gallery owners.
"She was the most wonderful light for all of us," said painter
Ira Yeager. "It's such a loss -- for both the valley and the
city." Martin Muller, owner of Modernism Gallery in San Francisco
and the American dealer for Gottfried Helnwein, said she was "one
of the rare, truly genuine, creative souls who happened to be a
part of high society. She was nurturing to artists, notably
Gottfried. She was always bringing creative people together.
Erika was a bohemian with sparkle."
Dede Wilsey, president of the Fine Arts Museums board, is
godmother to the Hillses' son, Justin.
"There are some people who leave behind a huge hole that never
gets filled, and Erika is one of those people," Wilsey said. "She
lit up a room. And when that bright of a light goes out, it's
lost forever. She was the catalyst for Austin and their boys, and
all her friends -- their guiding light."
In addition to her husband and sons, Mrs. Hills is survived by
her father, Dr. Max Brunar, and siblings Dieter Mascen and Eva
Pongraz, all of Graz, Austria.
The memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 6 at Grace
Cathedral. The family asks that donations in Mrs. Hills' memory
be sent to Cal Performances, 101 Zellerbach Hall, Suite 4800, UC
Berkeley; Seven Tepees Youth Program, 130 Church St., San
Francisco; or Roots of Peace, 1299 Fourth St., Suite 200, San