RANCHO SANTA FE — Beverly Sills, buttoned to the throat in a diva-red dinner dress, swept into the grand hall at Frank and Lee Goldberg's rural showplace, inspected an early-1970s poster of herself advertising the New York City Opera and muttered, "Oh, dear!"
Ten feet down the hall, Sills paused to peer at a collection of Oriental deity carvings, pointed out one that resembled a typically well-fed Turandot and said, "How nice!"
To a woman accustomed to life at the center of attention for more than three decades, the marble reception hall and sweeping public rooms of the Goldberg estate may have seemed like so many new stage sets upon which to spin out a little night music.
Sills maintained a gracious, low-keyed presence, however, quietly greeting the guests from around the county and around the country who gathered Friday evening to honor her for her role, recently concluded, as national chairman of the 50th Anniversary of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.
The reception was held in conjunction with the quarterly meeting of the foundation's national board, which attended en masse along with Dr. Jonas Salk, directors of the San Diego chapter of the March of Dimes and, thanks to the Goldbergs' association with the San Diego Opera, key supporters of that organization.
Earlier, Lee Goldberg had waited anxiously at the door to catch the first glimpse of the retired opera star, now general director of the New York City Opera. Because Sills' nickname is Bubbles, Goldberg installed a bubble machine on her front lawn, where it sprayed shimmering globes over a pansy patch and tempted arriving guests to try to balance the delicate little objects on their fingertips.
"Beverly was born with a bubble in her mouth, and the doctor who delivered her said, 'This child has to be named 'Bubbles,' " Goldberg explained. In a comment that, in a moment of serendipity, would be echoed later by Sills, Goldberg added, "I've never met her, but I've read her book, and I feel like we're best friends."
The gathering included several longtime friends and professional acquaintances of the diva, including attorney and opera supporter Josiah Neeper and opera general director Ian Campbell.
"I \o7 can\f7 call her Bubbles, but I call her Beverly. I've never actually heard anyone call her Bubbles," said Neeper, who has been pals with the singer since the 1970s, when she began appearing in productions at the Civic Theatre.
"She was the great American diva. She still is," said Campbell, who added that Sills also is something of a tease, especially when an opportunity comes along to mimic Campbell's Down Under pronunciation. "She really enjoys 'sending up' my Australian accent, and whenever we pose for photos, she insists on saying 'G'day' to the camera," he said.
The business of formally greeting the out-of-towners fell to Dick Freeman, who is president of the San Diego Padres and chairman of the local March of Dimes board. He reminded guests that, although the group's primary goal is raising funds, San Diego does enjoy an unusual situation in that for every dollar raised locally, two to three dollars flow in from the national organization; the Salk Institute alone receives more than $1 million annually.
Sills then spoke, and, after announcing that the Goldbergs had become her "new best friends," she left the crowd with a closing line that perhaps only someone accustomed to the great dramatic roles would deliver. Tuning her voice to a soft register that mingled nostalgia and melancholy, she said, "It's lovely to be back in San Diego--it reminds me that I used to be Beverly Sills."
SAN DIEGO--Developer Ernest Hahn received the National Institute of Human Relations Award, given annually by the American Jewish Committee, at a dinner-dance held Saturday at the Catamaran Hotel.
More than 200 guests and civic leaders attended to applaud the widely recognized philanthropist, who already has received the City of Hope's Torch of Life, the Humanitarian Award granted by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Revelle Award, given for outstanding contributions to the city of San Diego.
Hahn, whose reticence in the face of praise is well known, sat quietly as a series of speakers outlined his accomplishments, and several guests were disappointed when he failed to unwrap and display the U.S. Senate commemorative tray given him in a special presentation by Sen. Pete Wilson (R.-Calif.)
"We've been touched and we've been inspired by Ernie Hahn," Wilson said. "People who have spent time with Ernie have come away with the impression that he is a man of great gentleness, but of steely determination."
Betsy Sanders, vice president and general manager of Nordstrom for Southern California, followed Wilson at the podium and spoke on Hahn's many community activities.
"Ernie dignifies the individual in every set of circumstances," Sanders said. "He shares his talents, assets and leadership. He has touched thousands and thousands of lives and brought doing good to new heights."
The Human Relations Award was presented by local AJC President Deborah Horwitz. Proceeds from the testimonial will benefit the programs of the AJC, which was founded in 1906 as the pioneer human relations agency in the United States. It states as its abiding principal that human rights are indivisible and that denial of equal justice and opportunity to any group threatens the rights of all.