Early life and background
Wilsey was born Diane Dow Buchanan. Her father, Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr., was the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg and Austria, as well as the White House Chief of Protocol under Dwight Eisenhower. Her maternal great-grandfather, Herbert Henry Dow, was the founder of Dow Chemical. Her privileged childhood featured summers at the family estate Beulieu House in Newport, Rhode Island, and in the south of France. When she made her social debut in 1961, as a Connecticut College student, Town & Country Magazine featured her on its cover.
She married shipping magnate and art collector John Traina in 1965, and had two sons, Todd and Trevor Traina. Her father was opposed to his daughter's marriage. In 1980, she divorced Traina, who later married billionaire novelist Danielle Steel.
In 1980, she married dairy millionaire Al Wilsey, who had recently divorced his third wife, Patricia Montandon. She and Wilsey were fixtures on the social axes of San Francisco and Napa Valley, where they maintained a country house. Al Wilsey died in 2002 at age 82.
She remains a prominent figure in the artistic and cultural spheres of San Francisco. In 2005, she raised $190 million to rebuild the earthquake-damaged De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, one of the largest collective gifts ever made to an American museum. She has raised millions for local causes like the renovation of Grace Cathedral, as well as the establishment of numerous trusts for organizations such as the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera.
Wilsey is featured prominently in her stepson Sean Wilsey's memoir Oh the Glory of it All, in which the author described her as his "evil stepmother", and contended that she married Al Wilsey because of his wealth.
In March 2013, Wilsey was accused of creating turmoil among the staff at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, following the death of its longtime director, John Buchanan. She was accused of allegedly using her affluence and influence as board president to fire many long-term curators, using museum personnel to tend to her personal collection, and forcing a show of her son's photos.
In July 2016, it was announced that Wilsey is stepping down from her position as lifetime board president "after the museums paid a $2 million settlement to a former high-ranking executive who said Wilsey had her ousted for revealing alleged misspending of museum money."
- Zinko, Carolyne (2005-04-05). "Memoir by son of S.F. socialites should set tongues wagging -- and other writers say it's not just trash talk". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- "Diane D. Buchanan To Be Wed Today". The New York Times. 1965-06-19. p. 15.
- Hamlin, Jesse (2005-10-11). "PROFILE: Dede Wilsey / De Young built on one woman's charm, savvy / Undaunted by 2 failed bond measures, Dede Wilsey led $190 million campaign". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- Wadler, Joyce (2005-05-15). "A Tale of Diamonds and Mud". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- Wadler, Joyce (2005-05-17). "Society queen, evil stepmother or both?". The New York Times.
- Cohen, Patricia (2013-03-16). "Turmoil at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco". The New York Times.
- Matier & Ross (July 24, 2016). "Dede Wilsey leaving top museums job amid strife over payout". sfchronicle.com.