Obituary: Diana Dollar Hickingbotham Knowles
1917 – 2013
Noted San Francisco philanthropist and patron of the arts Diana Dollar Knowles died at her Pacific Heights home on March 4, 2013. The granddaughter of legendary shipping line owner Captain Robert Dollar and the daughter of San Francisco businessman and philanthropist Robert Stanley Dollar and his wife, Esther Johnson Dollar, Mrs. Knowles was born in San Francisco on September 18, 1917. She and Joseph Cameron Hickingbotham, Jr. were married in 1937; they had two children, Joseph (“Jody”) Cameron Hickingbotham III and Heidi Dollar Hickingbotham. Mr. Hickingbotham, Jr. died in 1967. In 1968, Mrs. Knowles married Gorham B. Knowles, whom she had known since her childhood. Mr. Knowles died in 1998.
The Dollar family’s far-flung shipping and business empire was founded by Captain Robert Dollar, who was often called “The Grand Old Man of the Pacific.” He was born in Scotland and, as a boy, emigrated first to Canada and then to the United States, where his early employment was in logging camps. As a relatively young man, he saved enough money to buy timberlands in the Pacific Northwest and California. In 1895, he acquired his first ship to move lumber up and down the Pacific Coast. From the early years of the 20th Century until his death in 1932, he acquired many other ships and shipping lines (including Pacific Mail Steamship) and at one point The Dollar Steamship Line had the largest fleet of passenger and cargo ships (all bearing the “$” symbol on their smokestacks) operating under the US flag. One of the ships was the Diana Dollar. The ships included the “President” ocean liners, which provided round-the-world passenger service. Captain Dollar established offices in many foreign ports and was instrumental in opening trade with China and Japan. In the late 1930s, the ships of the Dollar Line were sold to the US Government and eventually formed the basis for American President Lines. After Captain Dollar’s death, the various businesses were run first by his son, Robert Stanley Dollar, and then by his grandson, R. Stanley Dollar, Jr. Over the years, The Robert Dollar Company held and managed the remaining Dollar family business interests, including real estate in San Francisco’s Financial District and timberlands in Oregon. The building at 311 California Street, the former home of The Dollar Steamship Line, is still known as The Robert Dollar Building. Following the death of her brother, R. Stanley Dollar, Jr., Mrs. Knowles became the president of The Robert Dollar Company, a position that she held until the company was sold in 1990.
Mrs. Knowles was a generous supporter of the arts in San Francisco, especially the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Ballet and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. At the time of her death, she was a member of the Board of Directors of the Opera and a Trustee Emeritus of the Ballet. She was also an active supporter of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, having served on its Board of Trustees. The Gorham and Diana Knowles Fountain is located in the plaza adjacent to the Cathedral. In 2004, she was given Grace Cathedral’s “Spirit of the City” award. At a dinner in her honor, Bishop William Swing said “Over a lifetime of effort, you’ve given joy to the citizens of this city by giving them beauty for the eye and the ear which lifts the human heart.”
From the time she was a child, Mrs. Knowles spent summers at Lake Tahoe, where her family had a large estate in the area now known as Dollar Point. She was a supporter of The League to Save Lake Tahoe and a sponsor of the group’s annual fund-raising summer fashion show. In recognition of her family’s participation in Tahoe’s maritime history, she and her children contributed the Trophy Display Area to the newly built Tahoe Maritime Museum.
Mrs. Knowles was a member of the Burlingame Country Club, the Cypress Point Club and Villa Taverna.
Mrs. Knowles son, Joseph (“Jody”) C. Hickingbotham III, died in 2008. She is survived by her daughter, Dr. Heidi Dollar Hickingbotham, and her grandchildren Kimberley Cary Hersov, Joseph C. Hickingbotham IV (and wife, Jessica Hickingbotham), Darayn Hickingbotham, Wendy Cary Prince (and husband, Mark Prince), Carolyn Cary Alt, Leslie Cary Buerger (and husband, Toby Buerger) and Cameron Todd Carey.
Arrangements are being handled by Halsted N. Gray – Carew & English, 1123 Sutter Street, San Francisco. A memorial service will be held at Grace Cathedral on Thursday, March 14 at 2:00 p.m. Burial services will be private. The family requests that any memorial contributions be made to Grace Cathedral (1100 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94108), San Francisco Opera (301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102) or San Francisco Ballet (455 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102).