Grandson of Goldman philanthropists killed in Sonoma Valley plane crash, children and nanny injured

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


The grandson of San Francisco’s renowned philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman died Thursday and his two children and a woman believed to be their nanny were seriously injured when their single-engine Cirrus SR22 plane crashed south of Sonoma soon after takeoff.

William “Bill” S. Goldman, 38, a University of San Francisco assistant professor of international studies, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The woman, Valeria Anselmi of Milan, Italy, and his two grade school age children, George and Marie, were hospitalized.

His wife, Serra Falk Goldman, a San Francisco attorney, could not be reached Thursday. A woman answering the phone at Falk, Cornell & Associates law firm declined comment.

The plane took off from Sonoma Skypark airport around 12:45 p.m., according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, and went down about two minutes later, crashing in a nearby field.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Assistant Schell-Vista Fire Chief Mike Mulas said a half-dozen civilians arrived at the crash site before emergency personnel and pulled the children from the wreckage.

“All three of the injuries were severe to critical,” Mulas said, adding that emergency medics tried to shield the survivors from Goldman, moving them away from the wreckage.

“It was just a tragic situation, tragic thing,” he said.

The children were taken to Children’s Hospital Oakland by helicopter, one by REACH at 1:45 p.m. and the other by Sheriff’s Office helicopter Henry 1 at 2:07 p.m., according to a Redcom dispatcher. Anselmi was taken by ambulance to Queen of the Valley Hospital at 1:20 p.m.

Neither hospital was able to provide status updates on their conditions.

The Goldman name is attached to several prestigious philanthropic efforts. Best known is the Goldman Environmental Prize, begun by Bill Goldman’s grandparents, Richard N. and Rhoda H. Goldman. It honors grassroots environmental individuals from around the world for significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. Each winner receives an award of $150,000 — the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists — and is often referred to as the “Green Nobel.”

The eponymous foundation gave $700 million to more than 2,500 grantees in its 60 years of existence. The fund closed in 2012.

Numerous other foundations related to the family exist, including the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation that Bill Goldman and his brother and sister founded in 2012 in memory of their father.

Bill Goldman also served on the board of directors for the New Israel Fund, a nonprofit based in New York City, that supports civil rights and democracy in Israel, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund in San Francisco that’s dedicated to economic security, education, Jewish life and the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bill Goldman was also a descendant of Levi Strauss, who in 1873 patented denim blue jeans.

He was born and raised in Washington, D.C, the son of Richard Goldman and Susan Sachs Goldman. He attended the Sidwell Friends School, received his undergraduate degree at Yale University, and both his master’s and doctoral degrees from UC Berkeley. He had taught at USF since 2012.

University President Paul Fitzgerald released a statement late Thursday about Goldman, saying the USF community was “devastated,” calling him “an accomplished scholar, a beloved and generous teacher, and a valued member of our community.”

Goldman enjoyed choral music, photography and especially flying for Angel Flight West, a charitable organization providing transportation for critically ill patients and their families.

Goldman’s plane is registered out of Palo Alto but the family lives in San Francisco. The aircraft wasn’t based at the Sonoma Skypark, according to Robin Tatman, president of the airport’s Experimental Aircraft Association chapter.

Cirrus planes are equipped with a unique parachute system that can be deployed in case of emergencies. While there was no official word on whether Goldman deployed his plane’s parachute, a witness thought he did.

Gina Isi, of Sonoma, was on her lunch break outside cork company Ganau America on Carneros Oak Lane in Sonoma watching the runway when she heard the plane take off.

“It was just at the beginning of its ascent, when I heard it — like it was going to stall,” she said. “It sounded like it choked a little bit, so I was like, ‘Holy cow!’ and then it seemed like it was going to recover, like I heard more revving, and then it just died.”

She watched as the plane disappeared behind a grove of trees, and then heard a pop — what she believes was the sound of the parachute.

“He must have deployed it under 200 feet,” she said. Isi said she did not hear the plane crash.

Staff Writers Mary Callahan and J.D. Morris contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 7017-521-5205 or On Twitter @SeaWarren.

Editor's note: An early version of this story originally misidentified the woman injured in the crash as Goldman's wife based on information provided by public safety officials.

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Make sure facts are from a reliable source.
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine