Lurline Matson Roth Coonan passes away at age 97

by Contributed Content on April 18, 2018

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Lurline Matson Roth Coonan, who grew up at Filoli, passed peacefully with her family at the age of 97 on August 13, leaving a deep and enduring legacy to the estate.

Lurline first came to Filoli in 1937 as a 17-year-old when her parents, Lurline Matson Roth and William P. Roth, purchased the estate. She often recalled that at first her siblings and her mother did not see the need to move. They were happy splitting their time between their home in San Francisco and their nearby 80-acre Why Worry Horse Farm, also in Woodside, but they were quickly enchanted with Filoli, its gardens and the surrounding land.

Lurline and her identical twin sister Berenice were accomplished equestrians, having learned to ride their mother’s show horses growing up. All of the Roth children grew up riding and competing in the ring and on the courses. The family brought horses to Filoli and the tradition continued. Lurline rode until her early nineties.

Throughout the decades there were many wonderful celebrations, events, and debut balls celebrated at Filoli. One of the grandest was when the Roth twins made their debut in September of 1939. The headlines in San Francisco said, “the girls were launched into society like luxury liners,” playing on the family’s maritime connections. Their parents had gifted them both a pin with their name in diamonds. Lurline always shared the story of how the girls spent the night switching them back and forth. In their youth, very few people, even those in their immediate family, could tell them apart.

During the war years, Lurline married the love of her life, James F. Coonan, in November of 1943. Their wartime wedding took place at the nearby Episcopal Church of St. Matthew, but their intimate reception was held at Filoli.

Growing up at Filoli had a lasting impression on Lurline. Like her mother, she was a lifelong member of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club. A talented flower arranger, Lurline exhibited in both Filoli’s Flower Show and the DeYoung’s annual Bouquets to Art, where she was a key designer showing every year — from its inaugural show in 1984 until her final display in 2014. They knew her as the dame de fleurs. In more recent years at Filoli, her miniature designs delighted other designers and guests alike.

Lurline was also a gracious hostess and a wonderful cook. Using a tried and true family recipe, she continued the tradition of making persimmon bread every Christmas — a tradition her mother had begun with Filoli’s persimmons from the Rose Garden.

When her mother gifted Filoli to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975, Lurline supported the fledgling organization along with her twin sister, helping start the first docent training program.

For more than 40 years, she has served as a volunteer, board member, or advisory council member. She presented and spoke dozens of times over the years, sharing her family’s history and stories with volunteers.

Her last presentation in 2016 was to a sold out crowd of more than 300. She was also interviewed for the documentary Filoli: Family Home, Historic Garden, Living Museum, now showing in the estate’s Visitor and Education Center, where again, she graciously shared her stories of what life was like growing up at this remarkable place. For her, it would always be home.

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