There was no drive-by fruiting, but there were a few affable groaners.
On Friday afternoon, Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow was formally renamed Robin Williams Meadow in honor of the late comic, who died in August 2014. The commemoration comes two days before the 38th Annual Comedy Day, a free event that takes place in the meadow and which Williams strongly supported.
A smattering of Williams’ friends and colleagues gathered to unveil the meadow’s new sign and share stories, led by Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Ginsburg introduced several people with good-natured mutilations of some of Williams’ one-liners, offset by genuinely sweet recollections of the much-missed actor and comedian, who lived in Marin at the time of his death.
“Robin said, ‘You’re only given one little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it,’ ” Ginsburg said, before going on to thank everyone who made the renaming happen. “This is quite a beautiful moment and a celebration of all that is right with parks: community and laughter and joy, there’s not enough of it in the world.”
“We thought about renaming the Polo Fields,” he added. “But the Polo Fields are where you play lacrosse, and as Robin Williams said, ‘Lacrosse is what you find in la church.’ ”
Mark Buell, president of the Recreation & Parks Commission, noted that in a time when people are taking names off of monuments to correct historical injustice, “it’s really a pleasure to put a name on a place — a name universally approved of by everybody.”
In case you’re wondering who the “Sharon” of Sharon Meadow is, it was Sen. William Sharon of Nevada, a 19th-century banker who got rich from the Comstock Lode. His late-in-life marriage to San Francisco socialite Sarah Althea Hill led to a protracted legal battle that included a knife fight in a courtroom and the death of a U.S. Marshal by gunshot. Sharon’s family donated the funds that built the Romanesque structure in the park that still bears his name. Scandalous, yes, but worthy of eternal remembrance? Arguably not.
Williams, Buell added, “had a huge heart, he never said no to anybody. He would come out to the San Francisco Zoo for their fundraiser, come out to the auction, then volunteer to read stories to kids on overnights at the zoo.”
Former supervisor and stand-up comic Tom Ammiano recalled Williams’ accessibility.
“We got to know each other through politics, actually,” Ammiano said. “He wanted to film a movie in the chamber at City Hall. I think it was Bisexual Man…? Bicentennial Man!”
To get approval, Williams was told he needed to talk to Ammiano, so he burst into the legislative chamber and danced until the sheriff came in.
“We gave him permission and never regretted it,” Ammiano said. “How could you say not to Robin Williams? One thing he did say to me was that ‘You are one of the few politicians who are intentionally funny.’ ”
Ammiano also related to SF Weekly that he shared a stage with Williams once, at a Comedy Day in the ’80s when LGBT comics were frequently harassed on stage.
“I went up to introduce myself, and he goes, ‘You’re that guy,’ ” Ammiano said. “I said, ‘Yeah, that gay guy.’ He said, ‘I wish you the best.’ I went out there and it wasn’t a transformative experience. People did throw ice and call me, ‘Faggot.’ I said, ‘You can call me Mr. Faggot.’ ”
Apparently, Williams once later impersonated Ammiano delivering a civic commemoration, the “politically incorrect” details of which Ammiano declined to share on record.
Debi Durst, board president of Comedy Day, thanked the Academy before saying, “This was a very special day for me. Robin was such a good friend to me. He was a friend to San Francisco and to the world and to Comedy Day, so when he passed away, I said, ‘We have to have something. And Comedy Day has been in what was Sharon Meadow for the past 20-some years, and I thought, ‘What could be better than to name the meadow after Robin?'”
It was Durst and her assistant who learned that Sharon Meadow had not officially been named after all, hence this renaming was technically a naming. Ginsburg later confirmed to SF Weekly that that discovery streamlined the process considerably.
“When you’re renaming, there’s winners and losers,” he said. “When you’re renaming, there’s only a winner.”
Asked what his 12 favorite Robin Williams movies were, in order, Ginsburg supplied four: Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Good Morning, Vietnam. Ammiano picked Insomnia and The Birdcage. SF Weekly wishes to add that 1992’s Toys is super-weird and under-appreciated and also Joan Cusack is amazing.
Read more from SF Weekly‘s Golden Gate Park issue:
Golden Gate Park: You Can Lead a Horticulture
A wilderness transformed into lungs for the 19th-century San Francisco.
Keeping certain species out of Golden Gate Park is a decades-old battle.
Golden Gate Dog Park Renovation Will Separate Large Dogs From Small
How do we break it to dogs that the $2.4 million upgrade to their park-within-a-park isn’t coming for another year?
Volunteering at the National AIDS Memorial Grove
Redwoods are inherently contemplative, bringing new perspective on an epidemic that is passing into history.