She was elegant, polished, and much venerated for her styling and cosmetics expertise. Laura Righetti Garzoli was a memorable figure at the cosmetics department with the longstanding but long-retired Riley’s Department store in San Luis Obispo. She passed away at the age of 109 earlier this week—ever present and grand. Yes, you read that correctly: One-hundred and nine years old.
With an infamous alabaster Swiss-Italian profile, Laura cruised around town in her bright-yellow hot rod while maintaining her perfectly manicured yard, orange trees, and home. She wore her hair long and in a perfect French twist, dyed grayish-blue and wore matching sweater sets with complementary costume jewelry. Dress for going out about town included a smart hat and cane.
She was a shrewd player of the Victorian card game Spite and Malice and played with her small network of neighbors. She taught me to play, and in turn I taught my daughter. She not only taught me the game, but the manners behind the game: Straight posture, tidy card pile, and drinking tea without slurping.
She was born in 1905 to Italian-Swiss immigrants Orazio and Gina Donati Righetti on the coast in Cayucos, California. She was Miss Cayucos in 1923 and shortly thereafter brazenly moved to San Francisco to attend Munson Secretarial School. She shared her scrapbook with me displaying small snapshots of herself impecably styled and regal in the big city. I fondly recall a fantastic photograph of her circa 1930, wearing wide-legged pants amongst a group of women in traditional dresses of the era. Even then she was a fashion-forward icon.
During WWII she served her country as a secretary to the war effort in Utah. It is there that a former childhood friend played matchmaker and orchestrated a blind date with Frank Garzoli. They married and returned to San Luis Obispo to make their home. Tragedy struck when her husband, a motorcycle patrolman was killed. She remained a widow and dedicated to her husband all these years.
After her tenure with Riley’s, Laura struck out on her own, opening a Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio in the Laguna Center in San Luis Obispo and operated it until her retirement in 1978.
She had a creative side—playing the piano and mastering the fine art of embroidery. At her side was always a distinguished “Mr Blue” cat. (She had several iterations of Mr. Blue…)
My last visit I brought with me a bottle of red wine for her and her “young” friend Arlene Zanchuck (age 94). Laura’s secret for a long life was half a glass of red wine every night after dinner. Although 109, she took a few minutes to recall who I was, but then the glimmer of remembrance came to her. She told me that her memory was not what it used to be. “I am letting go of some memories so that I can treasure the memories I hold most dear.” As we sat and chatted I reminded myself that I was in the presence of a special woman and to soak in every moment and not let the memory go.
Read more in her obituary in the Telegram Tribune.