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Elsie Floriani: Alpha Attitude

As Gentry turns the page, a reflection on the magazine’s founder, Elsie Floriani

In the spring of 1993, a press release for a new Bay Area publication promised a “high-quality, high-style magazine reflecting the wonders of this place in which we live and the fascinating people with whom we share our lives.” Twenty-seven years later, with a pandemic sweeping the globe, wildfires raging throughout the West Coast, and a deepening worldwide economic crisis, Gentry continues to rally the community while paying tribute to the fascinating people in our wondrous place.

From those heady early days through these turbulent times, Gentry’s founder, Elsie Floriani, has served as the magazine’s beating heart. Her motto? “Life will lead you where you need to be.” In October 2020, that means time spent safely at home in Menlo Park, going through her archive of more than 300 issues of Gentry with me for this story. Each is a carefully crafted artifact, as well as a testament to our evolving community.

With gentle humor and relatability, and fortified by her “armor” of animal print, Elsie wrote monthly columns about her love of football and fireworks, her obsession with golf, and her unabashed use of paper towels. She celebrated her unwavering love for our country, the importance of family, and the value of history. And she confronted mighty forces such as aging, love, and loss on our behalf.

“For every story I have shared with readers, I have received so many more in return,” she says. “Every revelation I experienced, I heard of similar ones from many of them. The rewards of connecting with so many people on so many different levels for so many years lessened any feelings of reluctance I might have had about exposing myself monthly as being painfully average.”

Elsie, average? Not a chance.

For me and for so many others, Elsie has been a generous mentor, advocate, touchstone, and inspiration. Those who know her recognize her as a source of love and light who would run into a burning building to protect her family, support a good cause, or prove her point.

As we sit on the floor and unwrap the past, one issue of Gentry at a time, her face is aglow and her mood almost giddy. Together with her children and grandchildren, these are Elsie’s most precious treasures. She remembers starting Gentry, her fourth and often most demanding child, like it was yesterday. And she’s learned valuable lessons along the way.

STICK TO YOUR GUNS. CARE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY.

In 1993, at the age of 56, Elsie found herself suddenly single and at a crossroads. The uncertainty inspired a midlife pivot to act on her lifelong dream to publish a laser-focused community magazine. Gentry would be a new kind of publication its predecessors would barely recognize—precisely the point.

“Nothing would stop me from believing in my dream of celebrating this utterly unique area, rich with human resources, embraced for its commitment to service, revered for its beauty, and blessed with the most perfect weather on earth,” Elsie waxes.

Nearly everybody thought it was a bad idea. It wasn’t always easy to tune out the naysayers, but Elsie was—and still is—pragmatic about negativity. “It comes with the territory, and you have to be resilient,” she says. “When something really matters, set a high bar, and be relentless in meeting it.”

Under Elsie’s direction, Gentry has always celebrated local philanthropists—not just the big names, but the unsung volunteers, benefactors, and charitable workers among us. “Call it what you want: philanthropy, thoughtful giving, entrepreneurial giving, or venture philanthropy,” Elsie says. “Our community is built on caring about each other, and we have never wavered from exploring the timeless art of making the lives of those around you better.”

ASK FOR HELP

“Magazine making is not for the faint of heart,” Elsie continues. “From day one, everyone at Gentry—sales, editorial, operations, and the creative team—has been so committed.” The unusually long tenure of many of those team members is a testament to the family atmosphere Elsie worked hard to foster as well as the importance of the stories being told each month. “With Stefanie Beasley’s unbridled energy and contagious enthusiasm, she raised everyone and everything up a notch,” Elsie says of the magazine’s longtime editorial director and president.

The support Elsie received from both friends and strangers who became instant Gentry fans has buoyed her through difficult times. She credits close advisors like her husband, Ron Wendt, and Kathleen Mehigan, as critical to her sustained success and ability to stay the course when life inside and outside Gentry got tough. Elsie shares, “This area is overflowing with sensational women like Kathleen who share my love of our community, and they have served as a source of balance that could be counted on to ground me or back my craziest play.”

NEVER, EVER GIVE UP

There’s another lesson to be learned from Gentry’s own longevity: keep giving your audience what they want, and they’ll stick with you. In addition to Gentry, that means creating and producing other popular publications that have appealed to readers and engaged advertisers, including California Home & Design, Gentry Health, Gentry Destinations, and Gentry Home.

All along, Elsie is certain she has been serendipitously blessed to find herself associated with the most innovative and talented people in Silicon Valley and beyond. Shares Elsie, “With Clint Reilly Communications and Nob Hill Gazette now leading the charge, decades later Gentry is still changing, adapting, and broadening its efforts to entertain, serve, and inform the reader and support businesses in our community in new and interesting ways.”

FAMILY FIRST

As we sit in Elsie’s apartment surrounded by her life and legacy, Elsie tears up, acknowledging that despite her name at the top of the masthead all these years, she was never making this journey alone. “Without a grumble or a sigh, they are there wherever and whenever I need them,” she says of her children Cristina, Michele, and Daniele. “Each has been there every step of the way, from delivering magazines in 1993 to strengthening Gentry’s Board of Directors in recent years. They are veritable forces of nature, encouraging me now more than ever at every turn.”

 Her wishes for the next generation include never giving up on a unique vision. “Starting a community magazine was a good route to bankruptcy, some said,” she shares with that distinct Elsie twinkle in her eye. “But I just knew it would work.”

Believe me, we won’t ever forget it.

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