Patricia Wallace did nothing halfway. For some, fountains would do. Wallace wanted waterfalls.
She was a board member for healthcare, arts, education and civic organizations — Humane Society of Greater Miami, Jackson Memorial Foundation, Salvation Army and The Wolfsonian/FIU among them. Her achievements in fundraising and promoting her passions were legion.
She was a successful businesswoman at a time when many women hadn’t shattered the glass ceiling. In 1970, she became a partner in Central Properties Co., a real estate holding company. She was an on-site developer and vice president of Grove Towers, a $40 million condominium developed in 1982. And in 1986, she founded Bankers Savings Bank, a state thrift on South Dixie Highway. She served as its chairman for 10 years and in 1991, founded and organized the Master Brokers Forum as an adjunct of the bank.
And when she shopped, she shopped. Store managers saw her coming and broke out the brie, champagne and fancy crackers in private rooms. She’d opt instead for her preferred Diet Pepsi. Sometimes with an aspirin chaser. Retailers knew to comply.
“She’s a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it — now,” a Miami News reporter wrote in a freewheeling feature about one of her eight-hour, thousands-of-dollars shopping sprees during Christmas season in 1986. “When she shops for Christmas, it’s a sight to see. … Merchants are counting their dough-dough-dough.”
Wallace, a prominent philanthropist, socialite and businesswoman, died in her sleep at her Gables Estates home in Coral Gables after a late afternoon nap on May 3, friends said. She was 72.
“If there is any saving grace in this it’s that she passed in her own bed in her beautiful home with her husband right there,” said friend Laurie Hoffman, executive director of the Humane Society of Greater Miami. “She wouldn’t have tolerated it any other way.”
Wallace, with her ringlets of flaming red hair befitting a movie star — she had her own private salon at home with a stylist on-call — lived up to adjectives like giving and formidable. Stories abound. Puffing one of her Parliaments, she would let reporters know immediately that they had “better be careful handling the totally unfounded rumors about her, because she understands libel laws perfectly, and if necessary will make use of them.” So read a Miami Herald feature in 1990. At the time, she was a chairman with the Vizcayans.
“A lot of people regard me as an intruder. But I grew up here. Shenandoah Elementary, Gables High. We lived between Miller and Sunset,” Wallace said in that story. She was raised Catholic, daughter of a doctor. She met Milton Wallace, who would become her husband of 53 years, while on an assignment for a high-school civics class at a political rally. The couple wed shortly after she graduated from Coral Gables High School. Milton Wallace was a prosperous attorney, developer and chairman of the Dade Housing Finance Authority.
But giving, and getting things done for the community, was ingrained early on in Wallace, a Miami native, born June 22, 1943.
“When you are fortunate in life, giving back is the right thing to do. This was instilled in me by my mother and father, who were generous philanthropists,” Wallace told South Florida Luxury Guide in 2014.
“She was the epitome of a philanthropist. She had three loves: it was family, friends and philanthropy,” said Ingrid Delgado, director of donor relations for Jackson Memorial Foundation. Wallace served on the foundation’s board for the past 15 years, including 12 years on the executive committee and two consecutive terms as its chairman. She was the founder and chairman of the Golden Angel Society, a group of donors who give $50,000 or more to the hospital and chaired its gala for three years. She received the foundation’s first Rainmaker Award.
“Pat was such a hard-working individual,” Delgado said. “Any time she had a project she gave it her full attention and had so much energy and she was tenacious about details. She wanted everything to be right and perfect because she cared so much.”
For one Golden Angels party, Wallace reserved Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in South Beach and opened the event to friends and family members of Golden Angels. The woman who once drew snickers behind her back for wearing a tiara to the Vizcayan Ball during the Dynasty-decade 1980s, went for a comparatively casual and strategic approach to attract donors.
“I wanted this to be a fun event, where men didn't have to wear ties — just bibs — and everyone could let their hair down and feel free relaxing while cracking the famous Joe's stone crabs. And I wanted to open the party up to new people who might not know about the Golden Angels to learn about all that we do,” Wallace said in a 2007 Miami Herald story.
She could also seamlessly multitask among her various organizations, like the American Red Cross, Art in Public Places Trust and University of Miami’s Linda Ray Children’s Center. She was honored by the March of Dimes and Miami City Ballet.
“What she felt strongly about she made things happen like none other,” said Hoffman. “She did so many things for so many organizations and did exponential things for the animals here at the Humane Society. She did the same for each of the causes during the time they were prominent in her life. Whether it was Jackson or the Humane Society, whatever that charity was, she gave it her heart and soul.”
Added Hoffman: “I’ve been with the Humane Society for 12 years and seen a few chairmen of the boards, and nobody did for the animals what she did.”
For the past eight years, Wallace chaired Pawpurrazzi, the major fundraising event for the Humane Society. “On a personal note, I spent thousands of hours with Pat, not having anything to do with the Humane Society, and she was the most charismatic and most interested woman — interested in other people. She wanted others to have the limelight. She was generous in that way,” said Hoffman.
Delgado vows to honor Wallace’s memory in such a way she’s sure that Wallace would approve. “She gave me one of her Pomeranians. ‘I will spoil you rotten and make Pat proud.’”
Wallace is survived by her husband Milton, sons Mark and Hardy, grandson Liam and sister Rebecca. A celebration of life and memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Stanfill Funeral Home, 10545 S. Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest. Donations can be made to the Humane Society of Greater Miami, Jackson Health Foundation and the Wolfsonian-FIU.