Movers and Shakers of Rancho Santa Fe

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If you live in Rancho Santa Fe, chances are your neighbor is a corporate executive, successful entrepreneur, or perhaps an inventor or heir to a major fortune. One would think that living in one of the 10 wealthiest communities in the U.S. — according to a recent Forbes.com real estate report — would attract invasive attention from the media, but the secluded, slower-paced country ambiance that characterizes the Ranch has allowed successful residents to keep a low profile. Some movers and shakers in the Ranch are well-known in the community, while others, even though they might have made national headlines, are relatively unknown by other Ranchoites. Though there is a tendency toward demure that seems to be a shared Ranch resident trait, we did find five who have made their mark, and were willing to share just a bit of what drives their efforts to make the world a better place.

Vivian Hardage — Grassroots In Politics And Philanthropy

It’s no secret that most in the Ranch vote Republican. Ten years ago, Vivian Hardage decided that women in the Ranch lacked a cohesive political voice. That’s why in 1994 she formed the Fairbanks Republican Women Federated (FRWF). Over the last decade, FRWF has evolved into a highly influential grassroots political entity, no doubt in part because of its deep-pocketed support of candidates.

Hardage and successive presidents of FRWF have hosted private speeches by political heavyweights such as President Reagan, Governor Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Politics is still Hardage’s passion, yet she also spends a significant portion of her time helping to find a cure for hereditary childhood blindness and vision disorders. Along with her husband, Sam (who ran for governor of Kansas before relocating to California), Hardage created the Vision of Children Foundation in 1991, an organization whose ultimate purpose is to find a cure for ocular albinism (OA), with which her son, Chase, was born.

“When Chase was born with OA,” Hardage says, “my husband and I were shocked to learn that no research was being conducted to understand or cure OA.”

Over the years, Hardage has made a name for herself by raising money for charities and scholarships and spending thousands of hours in the community espousing core Republican values. In fact, FRWF has helped many political candidates get elected in San Diego County.

And before any Democrats take a swipe at Hardage and FRWF, consider that it’s not just money the organization has spent to help influence policy. Members have spent countless hours in homeless kitchens and shelters, making their ambition not just about the power of politics, but also the drive to improve society that should underlie all political endeavors.

Bill Lerach — The Robin Hood Of Cheated Investors

Bill Lerach isn’t heavily involved in Ranch social and charitable functions. As the lead plaintiff attorney in class-action lawsuits against Enron, WorldCom, Qwest, and other — allegedly — cheating corporate behemoths, Lerach doesn’t have the time to hobnob, at least not when he’s busy doing things like flying to Houston to comb over shredded documents at Enron headquarters. In 1994, Lerach’s courtroom savvy was instrumental in getting R.J. Reynolds to halt its Joe Camel campaign. He was also involved in the Exxon Valdez oil tanker litigation.

Lerach and his lethal legal eagles specialize in representing and recovering millions of dollars for defrauded investors and financial houses. His ferocity in the courtroom can be compared to a four-star general in the heat of a battle, possessing laser-sharp focus and ruthless tactics. “My mission,” says Lerach, “is to make corporate executives and directors more accountable to the shareholders they serve.”

Lerach is somewhat of an anomaly in the Ranch, considering he’s a heavy Democratic party fundraiser, so much so that Bill Clinton once stayed over at his house. “That was an amazing experience,” Lerach recalls, “especially for my son, Dillon,” who was six at the time. “President Clinton sat Dillon on his lap and took him inside Helicopter 1.” Clinton’s visit was at the apex of the Lewinsky scandal, and not one to withhold counsel, even with the President of the United States, Lerach recalls, “I told Bill: ‘Don’t you dare resign; fight it.’ ”

Is Lerach motivated by wealth? Of course, but who isn’t? “[I’m] no angel,” Lerach said in a past New York Times interview, adding, “[I’m] driven by the profit motive just like everyone else.”

Those outside the legal profession tend to balk at the portion of a large settlement generally apportioned to legal fees. But consider that even if Lerach’s cut of a settlement is more than an island nation’s gross domestic product, he has done his part to make America’s corporate environment a healthier one.

Marty Wygod — Revolutionizing Online Health Care

The U.S. healthcare system needs fixing, and the Ranch’s Marty Wygod might just be the man with the right tools for the job. As chairman of WebMD.com, a post he’s held since March 2001, Wygod has transformed the Web site from one that barely survived the dot-com bomb, to an innovative online health portal that millions visit to seek information on a myriad of illnesses, diseases, cures, and symptoms.

In addition to giving the public unlimited free information online, Wygod has helped WebMD create an online management database for doctors. Patient transactions and records can now be easily transferred to physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, and insurance providers. Physician office scheduling software is another way that Wygod and his staff at WebMD are attempting to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

“My goal with WebMD,” says Wygod, “is to develop an entity that will be a destination where patients and physicians can go to get the most current information on their disease or illness.” Wygod claims that in the near future, patient and doctor, through the WebMD portal, will be able to communicate online with each other.

Along with his wife, Pam, Wygod is involved in many community organizations, such as Children’s Hospital and the Monarch School. He’s a founding member of the Roger Rowe Elementary Endowment Fund, and his own family foundation, the Rose Foundation, gifted $10 million to Children’s Hospital and Health Center in 2001 — the largest outright gift in the hospital’s history.

When he’s not figuring out how to remedy our nation’s woeful healthcare system, Wygod is involved with equine pursuits. He’s on the board of directors of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and owns approximately 50 horses currently in training.

Kevin Mabbutt — From British Soccer Star To Ranch Restauranteur

In February 2004, Delicia’s, a fine dining establishment in the heart of the Ranch, threw a private party that had media from all over the world seeking juicy bits of gossip. Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney showed up for an impromptu performance in honor of a Ranch resident’s 50th birthday.

One would think that having McCartney play at your restaurant would be the ultimate advertisement if you were the owner of Delicia’s. But Kevin Mabbutt, who owns the restaurant along with his Italian-born wife, Lisa, can’t abide attention and turned down all media requests for interviews regarding McCartney’s surprise gig.

“I hate self-promotion,” says Mabbutt, with a British accent. “I’m a very private person because of my experience in the limelight in England.”

Mabbutt was a star in the premier British soccer league from the ages of 18 to 26, when injuries forced him to retire from the game. Mabbutt and his wife took over the restaurant from Lisa’s father about eight years ago, and it has since turned into a favorite dining establishment for Ranch locals.

Although Delicia’s is considered fine dining, Mabbutt is perhaps most popular for introducing Thursday Hamburger Night. “Thursday is the busiest night of the week for us,” says Mabbutt.

Mabbutt, who just purchased the film rights to a book written about Italian soccer, says he loves being an integral member of the Ranch, especially when it comes to his involvement in Rancho Santa Fe Youth Soccer. Over the last five years, he has seen the league balloon from 300 to 1,400 members. He and his wife donate to “far too many charities to mention.”

Even in his philanthropy, Mabbutt prefers to be low-key.

Wendy Whitworth — The Ranch’s Cable Ace

So who was the Ranch resident that celebrated her 50th birthday being serenaded by Paul McCartney? It was Wendy Whitworth, the senior executive producer of CNN’s Larry King Live.

Whitworth works out of her gorgeous estate in the Ranch, coordinating the overall planning and production of Live, which earned her a CableAce award for Best Talk Show. Working with a couple of assistants in her home, Whitworth is surrounded by pictures of dozens of politicians and celebrities she has booked, including a picture of her powdering Bill Clinton’s nose.

Whitworth’s schedule is hectic, yet she feels grateful that she works from home so she can spend time with her children. In fact, she’s heavily involved with KidsKorp, a program that Ranch resident Joani Wafer founded to get children involved in giving back to their communities.

“I don’t have a lot of stress,” says Whitworth. “A successful producer knows how to multi-task and I’m good at that and being organized.” When you’re producing one of the most influential talk shows, it’s vital to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. “My job is very interesting,” she says. “For half my life I’ve been involved with every major news story.”

The 9-11 attacks were admittedly difficult for Whitworth. From that fateful day to Christmas three months later, Whitworth produced daily programs relating to 9-11, often acquiring exclusive interviews. “At the end of the day, after all the stories and pictures, the sadness did take a toll,” says Whitworth.

Whitworth loves living and working in the Ranch, and even though she has a high profile job, she says her children are her proudest accomplishment, definitely more so than powdering Bill Clinton’s nose.



This article originally appeared in Ranch and Coast Magazine. 

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.