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Cynthia Schuman
May 12, 1935 - December 16, 2021

On December 16th 2021, Cynthia Schuman, designer, artist, and philanthropist passed away peacefully at home after several years of living with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Known for her warmth, graciousness, elegance and legendary joie de vivre, her family and close friends will remember her most for how special she made each of them each feel. 

Born in Oakland to parents Adolph and Lillian Schuman, Cynthia grew up in Hillsborough, attending South School and Burlingame High.

During her teen years, her father would each year take her to the annual opening of the San Francisco Opera adorned in couture gowns designed by the likes of Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior. Women’s Wear Daily featured her on their cover. 

In 1953, she was one of a small number of women admitted to the mostly male Stanford University. By the end of her first year, the glamour of the fashion industry drew her away from school to become a designer of women’s suits, coats and dresses at Lilli Ann Corporation in San Francisco, a company started by her parents and named after her mother. Cynthia’s designs established enduring fashion trends and were featured in Vogue and Bazaar magazines. She was entertained by the luminaries of fashion during her trips to Fashion Week in New York and Paris.

In 1961 she changed her professional focus from fashion design to interior design and founded Benatar and Cole Interiors. She transformed many prestigious homes in the Bay Area with her unique and exquisite touch. During this period, she married Daniel Benatar and they had two children, Denise and Darrell. 

Best known as an artist, in the 1970’s she painted superb portraits of San Francisco dignitaries Joseph Koret, Walter Shorenstein, Cyril Magnin, Linus Pauling and Senator Diane Feinstein. She was featured in numerous magazines including Town and Country’s Top People and Places in California. In 1984, her portraits of presidential candidates Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart were displayed at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.  

Cynthia returned to Stanford in her 50’s to continue her Fine Arts degree, as she began experimenting with abstract painting using acrylics, enamels, and resins. It was a bold move for her to move from representational portraiture and still lifes to abstract art but in doing so she found great joy and felt she had found her true purpose in life. She went on to have numerous art shows and was featured in local art galleries including the San Francisco Modern Art Museum Gallery. She was selected to present one of her paintings, “Creation of Peace” to Mikhail Gorbachev during his historic visit to San Francisco in 1990. You can see Cynthia’s art at

In 1991, Cynthia met Dan Banks and they were married the next year. For the last 30 years, Cynthia and Dan made family their priority. They took their children and grandchildren to Mexico every year for the holidays where the families formed life-long bonds. Cynthia and Dan traveled the globe extensively together and with friends. 

Inspired by her close friend Congresswoman Jackie Speier, in 2020 Cynthia started and funded the Women of Courage Award. This annual award is granted to young women who show outstanding courage in overcoming adversity and who contribute to making the world a better place. 

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