In mid-March, California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, came to a suite in the Hyatt Regency Sacramento for a photo session, the result being the cover of this issue. I had joined writer Dayna Dunteman a few weeks earlier to interview Maria for the feature on page 110. At the Hyatt, I joined Sacramento magazine art director Debbie Hurst, assistant to the art director Annette Chow, photographer Roy Wilcox and makeup artist Sherri Morris, to ask Shriver a few more questions. I was interested in what else she was up to besides preparing for the imminent release of her new book, What’s Wrong With Grandpa?
Turns out, she was up to plenty.
Although the twice-scheduled photo shoot was all but canceled the previous evening as she dealt with a sick child—“He must have eaten too much green food related to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations . . .” she said—she was able to fly up to Sacramento in the morning. A California Highway Patrol officer checked in to let us know Maria was on the ground in Sacramento, and shortly thereafter she entered the suite with newly hired Chief of Staff Christine Stavem. After warmly greeting everyone, she sat down. Sherri touched up her makeup while Debbie, Roy and Annette adjusted the lighting and got the set ready.
Maria, as she insists on being called, is a whirlwind. In between dabs of makeup, she talked with Christine about scheduling challenges and assignments, while simultaneously handling questions from Roy, Debbie, Sherri and me. Maria’s cell phone rang frequently, its different ring tones letting her know who was calling. No stranger to the camera, Maria needed no direction when it came to having her photo taken. “I know what to do,” she let Roy know as he began to ask her to strike different poses—and, in fact, she did. Roy and Debbie got the shot they wanted within only a few frames.
In between takes, I asked Maria about several things. Any progress on finding a Sacramento home? Since December, I had heard continuous, unconfirmed reports of “Maria sightings” in front of property in Carmichael, Arden Oaks, and in East and West Sacramento. Although she looked at many homes and neighborhoods, no decision had been made. Raising four kids and handling her numerous commitments has made finding a home in Northern California less of a priority.
But Maria does feel that there should be an official home for California’s governor. While attending a governor’s conference held this past March in Washington, D.C., she learned from her cohorts about the challenges newly elected governors and their families face. Maria said many were surprised to learn there is no permanent home for the governor in California. She remarked that although the staff at the Hyatt (where Maria and Arnold stay when in Sacramento) takes exceptional care of them, a hotel is simply not a home.
Maria hopes that her new book will help readers understand Alzheimer’s disease, which now afflicts her dad, and encourage talk between parents and children about the disease. And she is pleased that writer Scott Stossel’s biography of her father, Sargent Shriver, is being released the same month as hers. She loved Stossel’s book. “Everyone in public service must read it. It will help people become familiar with Daddy’s legacy.”
Maria said she enjoys what she has been able to experience in Sacramento but needs more time to get to know the area better. When we first had met, Maria expressed the hope of bringing her children to Sacramento during their Easter break. Maria also made a point of acknowledging former Lodi resident and school teacher Lindsay Schnaidt as an important part of her family. Lindsay has worked in their home for a few years, “not as a home helper, not as a children’s caretaker, but as so much more,” she said, looking for the right phrase. “As my right arm, that’s the phrase I want.” While they were here at Easter, Lindsay took Maria’s children to Lodi for a visit.
I had to ask: Kings or Lakers? “Do you think I am crazy enough to answer that?” she replied. “When I am in L.A., it’s the Lakers, and when I am in Sacramento, it’s the Kings.” Being from the East Coast, Maria and her dad enjoy baseball. While growing up, she was at times a fan of the Washington Senators, the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, but her father’s team has always been the Orioles.
Maria told me she has established a goal of working to increase Californians’ sense of state unity and pride, particularly among women, and has a few ideas in the works to help achieve this. One is the creation of a permanent exhibit on the second floor of Sacramento’s California State History Museum (formerly known as the Golden State Museum), located at 10th and O streets, titled “Remarkable California Women.” The exhibit will highlight the achievements and strengths of California women from all walks of life, including artists, entertainers, athletes, scholars and more. The exhibit is scheduled to open May 12.
Another endeavor Maria is involved in is the Governor’s Conference on Women and Family. She has renamed this annual event, adding “and Family” to the title, as she believes that most women must balance family with many other responsibilities. This year’s conference will occur in Long Beach on Dec. 7.
Maria also is excited about a new line of jewelry she is working on with designer and friend Jill Schiff, which promotes California’s history and heritage. For the photo session, she wore one of Schiff’s designs, a California state seal on a silver chain, as well as a couple of charm bracelets from the same line. The charms have tiny insets depicting California lore, including one with a tiny photo of Maria and the governor. Maria challenged our group to come up with a name for the jewelry project. (“California’s First Lady Charm Bracelets” seemed to win out.)
As the session wrapped up, Maria said she found the furnishings in this Hyatt suite more to her liking than those in the governor’s suite on another floor. Ever the multitasker, she summoned the hotel’s facilities chief by phone, who showed up moments later and quickly agreed to accommodate her request. Furniture was moved shortly thereafter. “The colors make this is room so much brighter than ours,” she said.
My sense is that Sacramento—and all of California—will be much brighter with Maria involved.