Our friend, Gloria Calhoun

gloria-calhoun-seated-on-porchOur friend and Bay Oaks resident, Gloria Calhoun, passed away in her sleep this week. We miss her deeply, as will all those who had the privilege of knowing her. She was a remarkable woman – an environmentalist, local activist and one-time mayoral candidate, nationally recognized interior designer and dear friend. The Miami Herald recognized her passing and we have copied the text of the piece here:

GLORIA CALHOUN | 1926-2008 Mayoral candidate, eco-activist

Gloria Calhoun — a would-be actress, protector of the environment and serious contender for Miami mayor — lived her life with elegance.

With her Doris Day-meets-Angie Dickinson looks, supermodel figure and lush blond mane, Gloria Maguire could easily have pursued the acting career that 20th Century Fox offered after World War II.

Instead, she married Mike Calhoun, a commercial real estate broker and polo player in Miami, joined the Junior League and got involved in local politics.

She won The Miami Herald’s endorsement in the six-way 1973 mayoral race. Praising her positions on open government and inner-city improvement, the newspaper called her “Mrs. Clean.”

She narrowly lost to front-runner Maurice Ferre, a longtime family friend.

Gloria Maguire Calhoun — environmentalist, society decorator and raw-foods advocate — died Nov. 13 after a series of strokes, said her daughter, Gloriana Calhoun of New York.

She had been living at Bay Oaks Home for the Aged, in Miami’s Edgewater section, since 2006, and was 82.

The only child of a Wisconsin oilman, Gloria Maguire grew up in privilege, developing an appreciation for the objets of classic beauty. The family had ”an incredible, huge lake home in Oconomowoc,” said Gloriana, a voice-over artist.

In 1941, the family moved to a stately home on Santa Maria Drive in Coral Gables. Gloria graduated from Boston’s Garland Junior College — now part of Simmons College — then attended the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Fox ”discovered” her in a Broadway-bound play, starring silent-film sensation ZaSu Pitts, Gloriana said. ”It got as far as previews, then Pitts became deathly ill,” and the production closed.

Eugenia McCrea, a Miami friend of nearly 60 years, said Calhoun had been a lonely child whose parents frequently traveled, but she blossomed onstage.

”She was inspired in New York with other people and could be anyone she wanted to be,” McCrea said.

But her father disapproved, so despite the Fox contract, Calhoun’s career soon ended.

She returned to the Santa Maria house — ”it looked like Gone With the Wind,” Gloriana recalls — and met Mike Calhoun on a blind date.

They married in 1952, had Gloriana and son Patrick, who died of cancer in 1995.

The Calhouns divorced, but remained cordial. Mike lives in Blountstown, Fla.

TV GAME SHOW

During the ’60s, Calhoun also appeared regularly on a local television game show called A Wiser World, as a panelist then as host.

In 1966, the family moved to an estate near Vizcaya that Madonna bought in 1992.

Calhoun, who lived there until 1981, had turned it into a waterfront showplace that Southern Accents magazine featured in a 10-page spread.

The Miami Herald’s Tropic magazine described its sea-shell motifs, Spanish tile kitchen and deep-rose glazed walls as “sumptuous.”

Calhoun said: “There is so much more romance in older objects. I’d rather have one antique than 50 new things.”

Calhoun joined interior designer Lynn Wilson’s team during the Biltmore Hotel’s mid-1980s renovation, and ”did a lot of work for the cruise lines, offices, ad agencies, hotels, residential, restaurants and bars,” Gloriana said.

She designed ”show houses” for Vizcaya, and served as director of the board of the Vizcayans, the historic home’s fundraising arm.

Because her parents had ”a funky coral-rock house in the Keys,” Calhoun ”became enthralled with nature,” her daughter said.

“That led her to become involved with the Audubon Society, which opened a door to the environmental issues that she became so passionate about, which opened another door into politics, which in turn spearheaded her [attempt as] the first woman to run for mayor of the city of Miami.”

The evolution was typical for Gloria, who took whatever she got ahold of and went all the way with.

”She didn’t like the things that were going on at the time, with cement buildings going up and trees coming down” all over the city, McCrea said, so she decided to run.

”I’m fed up with the kind of deceit that has shrouded the mayor’s office,” Calhoun proclaimed during a candidates’ forum. She blamed interim-Mayor Ferre — a former neighbor and her son’s godfather — for various ”failures” — many development-related.

She’d been a conservation gadfly for several years by then, opposing a bridge to Fisher Island — which was never built — and the construction of Coconut Grove’s Fair Isle — which was.

”People have lost sight of protecting things that we will never be able to restore,” Calhoun said in 1972. “First we have to save what’s left and then we need long-range planning to reevaluate our zoning systems and the environmental protection devices in the city and county charters.”

STREETS OF OVERTOWN

Walking the streets of Overtown during the campaign, in pastel slacks and designer sunglasses, Calhoun declared, “There is no excuse . . . for having a ghetto in this day in Miami. . . . What issue is more important than providing a decent place to live for people and a place off the street for our children to play?”

Her campaign manager took her to a section of town where garbage was piled 10 feet high. It was the first time Calhoun had been exposed to anything like that, her daughter said.

Election night produced a cliffhanger, with Ferre leading and Calhoun a close second. Only 66 votes short of the threshold for a runoff, she decided not to seek a recount.

At the time, Ferre called her ”a vicious competitor,” but they eventually reconciled and the families remain close.

After her death, Ferre called Calhoun “a wonderful person but not prepared to be mayor. I never took her as a rival.”

Calhoun ”was always conscious of beautiful things,” he added. “She had very refined tastes, and it was obvious in everything she did. She had impeccable manners and was the hostess with the mostest — the best of the Miami of the 1950s and ’60s, a Miami that no longer exists.”

When her son died in 1995, Gloria Calhoun was ”very stoic,” her daughter said, “but she kept a lot of that in, because they were very close.”

Calhoun had been living on the edge of South Miami before moving to Bay Oaks — by then afflicted with dementia. But she remained elegant and refined.

”She had a great love of dancing, and we were out toward the end of her life having buffet lunch at the Ritz-Carlton,” McCrea said. As a trio played, Gloria took the floor, alone.

Said McCrea: “It captured everyone’s attention.”

A memorial service for Gloria Calhoun is planned for 11 a.m. Dec. 2 at the First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, 536 Coral Way.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Bay Oaks Home, a nonprofit, at 435 NE 34th St., Miami, FL 33137.

Loved ones will spread her ashes in Biscayne Bay.

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