Bill Konrad, former owner of Healdsburg's Madrona Manor, dies at 82 – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

After working a full and successful career as an executive-level, international business accountant, Bill Konrad demonstrated while greeting guests of one of Sonoma County’s most historic country inns that he cared about much more than numbers.
“He so enjoyed people,” said daughter Annette Kluse of Healdsburg, who for a time helped Bill and Trudi Konrad run the Dry Creek Valley’s elegant Madrona Manor, now under new ownership and renamed The Madrona. “He had a personality that people gravitated toward — not a usual one for a CPA!”
Bill Konrad, who retired as a partner in the global accounting firm Ernst & Young in 1999 and promptly purchased the gracious and gabled 1881 estate near Healdsburg, died Oct. 19. He was 82.
Through the 21 years that he and his wife owned the 23-room Madrona Manor, it enjoyed a reputation as an extraordinary place to stay and dine.
With chef Jesse Mallgren running the kitchen, the Victorian inn’s restaurant for 13 straight years earned a Michelin star. Press Democrat contributor and former restaurant reviewer Jeff Cox wrote in 2004 that the Madrona Manor might well be Sonoma County’s best restaurant.
“If you want full-blown extravagance,” Cox wrote, “It would have to be at the top of anyone’s list.”
Among the other accolades for the three-story boutique hotel: Travel & Leisure magazine declared it one of the 100 best hotels in America.
Trudi Konrad, who met her future husband on blind date in Philadelphia in 1964 and married him two years later, said she and Bill loved the inn at first sight but did not intend to run it.
The idea in 1999, she said, was to buy the eight-acre property so that their daughter Maria and her husband at the time could run it. But that arrangement didn’t work out. So the Konrads became innkeepers.
“It was lots of fun,” Trudi Konrad said. “But sometimes we thought, ‘What the hell are we doing?’”
Her husband, the retired A-list accountant, took right to all that was involved in working with the hotel and restaurant staff, and engaging with the guests.
“He was a good delegator,” Trudi said. “He was very well liked the people who worked for him.”
Executive chef Mallgren was with the Konrads throughout nearly their entire run at the Madrona Manor. He called Bill Konrad “incredibly intelligent, fun to have a conversation with” — and the sort of boss who supported and mentored his employees, and freed them to do their work.
“He would stop in and say ‘Hi’ a few times a day,” Mallgren said. “He definitely let me do what I wanted in the kitchen.”
Konrad found joy in going table-to-table to visit with his guests. At Christmastime, he’d often don a Santa Claus outfit for the inn’s famed Dickens Dinners, and he’d hand out the teddy bears he’d shopped for through much of the year.
“He was a bit of a character,” his wife said.
Bill Konrad had experienced several mild strokes and struggled with the effects of vascular dementia when he and his family sold the inn in March 2021. It is owned now by an investment group led by interior designer Jay Jeffers and his brother, Kyle.
The new owners spent millions of dollars to modernize the hotel-restaurant and reopened it this past spring as The Madrona. The kept Mallgren as chef.
“I’m happy to continue the legacy here,” he said.
His former boss and friend Konrad grew up in a working-class family in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. He studied economics and accounting at Villanova University, and in 1962, at age 22, became a CPA in Baltimore with the accounting firm that would become Ernst & Young, or EY.
As newlyweds in 1966, he and Trudi traveled to Italy — not to honeymoon, but to live. The Ernst firm had sent Bill there to work as an international business auditor.
The Konrads lived for 10 years in Rome, then three more in Milan. Their three children were born there.
“It was fabulous,” Trudi said. “It was magical.”
The family returned to the U.S. in the late 1970s, settling in California. They lived in Orinda, then San Francisco, then Palo Alto as Bill Konrad moved among the Ernst firm’s Bay Area offices.
When the Konrads discovered and fell in love with the Madrona Manor in 1999, Bill had recently retired and taken a position with a Bay Area startup.
The grand estate was completed in 1881 as the 17-room mansion of banker, miner, lumberman and state legislator John Alexander Paxton. The estate was 100 years old when John Henry Muir bought it in 1981 and turned it into a country inn.
For Bill and Trudi Konrad to decide to buy it from Muir in 1999 wasn’t completely out of the blue. In the mid-1980s, recalled Trudi, “We owned the Truckee Hotel with a group of partners.”
The couple made the purchase, undertook a restoration of the hotel, and for two decades savored maintaining its splendors, greeting guests and gathering there with family members and friend for meals, parties and special occasions.
Bill Konrad enjoyed spending every day at the inn, until his failing health prevented it. His wife said just days before he died, he asked that his children and grandchildren come to his home outside of Healdsburg.
In a moment of clarity that pierced the dementia, he told them, “I love all of you, and I’m sorry I’m not going to be here for you. I want you to love each other and take care of each other.”
Son Billy Konrad III lives in Portugal and was working in France at the at the time of the bedside gathering but attended via his cellphone. He recalls his dad saying, “Find someone in this world to love, wrap your arms around them and never let them go.”
In addition to his wife in Healdsburg, his daughter in Healdsburg and his son in Europe, Bill Konrad is survived by daughter Maria Hadley of Healdsburg and eight grandchildren.
A celebration of Konrad’s life is from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at 2480 Mill Creek Road in Healdsburg.
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