Notable Palo Alto area people who died this year | News | Palo Alto Online |


Notable Palo Alto area people who died this year

Many mourn for those who served, left an imprint on the community

Pat Briggs returns to her office at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre on Friday, Aug. 1, 2008. She passed away after a period of failing health in her hometown of Chicago. Weekly file photo.

As 2017 comes to a close, we look back at people who left a lasting impression on many in the Palo Alto community and beyond through their accomplishments, the lessons they imparted, and the barriers they broke.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. If you would like to make note of other people who died this year, leave your comments below. To look at additional obituaries, go to the Lasting Memories website.

Pat Briggs

Died June 8, 2017, at 80

Pat Briggs, the director of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre from 1961 to 2008, is credited with building the group's national reputation for excellence.

She was born in Chicago to parents who were performing artists, and by her senior year in high school she was studying voice, diction and lessons at Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. She eventually found her way west.

During her 47 years at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, she directed more than 500 productions and wrote more than 20 scripts, receiving numerous awards.

In August 2010, the Children's Theatre Foundation of America gave her a "Medallion" award for her nearly half-century of promoting "significant artistry and/or achievement impacting the imagination of children and youth."

In 2009, during a proclamation ceremony for Briggs, City Councilman Jack Morton commented, "There are some people in this world that walk into your life and leave you with a permanent memory of the good we can do when we put our hearts to it."

— Jay Thorwaldson

John Freidenrich

Died on Oct. 11, 2017, at 80

Palo Alto native John Freidenrich, who lived in Atherton since 1969, made his mark on the world as an attorney, civic leader, early investor in many Silicon Valley companies and major supporter of his alma mater, Stanford University.

With Leo Ware, he co-founded in 1968 the Ware and Freidenrich law firm, which ultimately employed several hundred lawyers. After representing numerous small startup companies, he formed the venture capital firm Bay Partners in 1976.

He served on the Stanford University Board of Trustees for 10 years and was also a member of the board of the Stanford Hospital and Clinics and chaired the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital board. He also served on the boards of American Century Funds and the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life, among many others.

In 2006 he and his wife, Jill, committed $25 million for the Jill and John Freidenrich Center for Translational Research, aimed at translating medical research into improved patient care.

— Barbara Wood

Daniel Arthur Logan

Died March 3, 2017, at 72

Palo Alto resident Daniel Logan led the Palo Alto Family YMCA as executive director from 1991 until his retirement in 2006. In that time, he raised more than $10 million and focused on making the Palo Alto Y a more inclusive place for people of low income, in poor health or with disabilities.

He received his bachelor's degree in history from Stanford University in 1966 and a master's degree in social work at George Williams College in Illinois. Social justice was the theme of his career. from civil-rights work to preventing young adults with drug problems from entering the penal system.

In 1992, he received the Fundraiser of the Year Award from the North American YMCA Development Organization, and in 2005 the YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

He maintained an active life despite overcoming physical challenges, including adapting to a wheelchair for the last 14 years of his life, following an accident.

Duncan Matteson

Died May 12, 2017, at 82

Palo Alto resident Duncan Matteson was a leader in business, philanthropy and community service. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he joined the Air Force after graduation from college.

He co-founded the Stanford Financial Co. with longtime friends Dennis LeVett and Bill Reller. In 1978, he founded Matteson Investment Corp., which focused on multi-family housing. In 1987, he co-founded Mid-Peninsula Bank in Palo Alto.

He was active in the Republican Party on a local, state and national level.

His philanthropic contributions included co-founding the Housing Industry Foundation, which gives emergency grants to people at risk of homelessness. He also helped raise $45 million in private contributions in 1999 for a new Palo Alto Medical Foundation facility and chaired fundraisers for the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society.

He and his wife, Shirley, also supported Stanford University entities, from the Hoover Institution to the Stanford University Medical Center to Stanford Athletics.

He was an elder at Menlo Church, where he served as a trustee for the Church of the Pioneers Foundation, which owns and manages the church's real estate.

—Kate Bradshaw

Kenneth G. Sletten

Died Nov. 8, 2017, at 88

Palo Alto resident Kenneth G. Sletten was known for his leadership in the construction industry as well as for his community service.

Born in Helena, Montana, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was hit by shrapnel from a mortar shell during a mission to retrieve fallen comrades in Korea. Upon his discharge from the Marines, he attended Stanford Business School. In 1962, he and Onslow "Rudy" Rudolph co-founded the firm Rudolph and Sletten, where he established ethical business practices that years later garnered him the Legacy Award from Engineering News Record for his contributions to the industry: innovations such as fast-track scheduling, guaranteed-maximum-price contracts, negotiated contracts, and the zero punch list.

Among the many projects that Rudolph and Sletten worked on were more than a dozen at Stanford, including the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital; numerous corporate buildings, including for Hewlett Packard and the Apple Campus at 1 Infinite Loop; and his favorite, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

As a community leader, he served on the boards of a range of nonprofits, including the Children's Health Council, Peninsula Family YMCA, Avenidas and Menlo School. He received Lifetime of Achievement awards from Avenidas and from Habitat for Humanity.

Clem Wiser

Died Feb. 3, 2017, at 92

Palo Alto resident Clem Wiser, longtime Palo Alto High School basketball coach and athletic director, was a role model to generations of young men and women.

Born in Kentucky, he joined the U.S. Marines as a teenager, when America became involved in World War II. Winding up in Palo Alto, he coached basketball for 28 years at Paly, where he also served as athletic director for another decade and worked as a school guidance counselor.

"Coach Wiser is simply the gold standard for teaching basketball players on and off the court," said Oregon's U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, who played for Wiser in the 60s, in an interview with Paly's The Campanile newspaper in 2014.

Those who knew him called him a man of great will, integrity and character who looked people in the eye, spoke simply but effectively and could make anyone feel like the most important person in the room.

Wiser's teams won 401 games, a record that exceeded that of any other Palo Alto basketball coach. He won nine league championships and was named California Coaches Association basketball Coach of Year in 1983.

— Rick Eymer

Other notables who died

Palo Alto resident Tom Ashton, a geologist who died June 26, contributed to the community by working on numerous city campaigns and election committees, by speaking at city council meetings and by writing letters to the editor.

Haile Selassie Clay, a 50-year Palo Alto resident who died on Oct. 25, was a Silicon Valley pioneer whose work included engineering calculations used in missile telemetry systems that helped win the space race, several patents for the Atomic Energy Commission, and work at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), where he was a leader in the field of cryogenics.

Palo Alto resident Mick (Michael John) Jordan, a computer scientist who died on Oct. 10, was known to many Palo Alto families as the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) coach who coached coaches as well as teams for more than 20 years, taking many players to the National Games.

Bob Kirkwood, an attorney and initiator of what became the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, died on Dec. 10. He was 78 years old. He was an attorney at Brobeck, Phleger and Harrison in San Francisco and worked at Hewlett Packard for 25 years, retiring as the director of government and education affairs. He designed and initiated the creation of the Santa Clara Manufacturing Group, a collaboration of industry and local governments, which became the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He was instrumental in many civic and environmental organizations, notably SPUR, POST, Trust for Public Lands, Sempervirens, and the Northern Sierra Partnership and the Coastal Conservancy. In 2005 he was the California governor's appointee to the newly created Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

Called the First Lady of Portola Valley,Donna Jean Lane, who died Nov. 18, was a founding member of the Westridge Garden Club of Portola Valley, served on the governing board of Filoli Center, was a longtime docent for Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and also served nationally on boards including the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University mathematics professor who died July 14 at the age of 40, was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, mathematics' leading award, which has been likened to the Nobel Prize.

Antonio "Tony" Montooth, who died May 27, owned and presided for more than 42 years over Antonio's Nut House, a popular California Avenue dive bar.

Mary Jean "M.J." Place —, who died Feb. 9, actively contributed to the community by serving on the Palo Alto Visual Arts Commission, the board of the nonprofit La Comida and the Friends of the Library. She established the Palo Alto Library Commission and the Palo Alto Library Foundation.

Doris Richmond, who died June 6, broke racial barriers as the first African-American to work full-time for the Palo Alto Library. She was also a member of the University AME Zion Church, the first black church established in Palo Alto, and the Chestnut-Wilton Homeowners Association, which she helped found for the largely African-American Palo Alto neighborhood

Palo Alto resident Bob Saldich, who died Nov. 9, was the CEO of Raychem Corporation and chairman of The Commonwealth Club of California and the American Electronics Association.

Palo Alto resident Charles Patrick Thacker, who died June 12, is credited with designing the first modern personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and co-inventing the Ethernet. He also contributed to the world's first laser printer and went on to found Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center in Palo Alto.

Palo Alto resident Roberta Mae Yee, who died Oct. 15, was one of the first Chinese-American women to become a real estate professional in Silicon Valley, and her community contributions included volunteerism with the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, Stanford Area Chinese Club, Palo Alto Historical Society, Santa Clara County Council on Aging, Lytton Gardens and Avenidas. She was honored with the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award in 2003.

Related content:

Webcast: Year in Review

2017: From behind the camera lens

Quotes to remember from 2017


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4 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 30, 2017 at 8:19 am

Other deaths - there but for the grace of God.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Helene Hagan
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 31, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Such a list cannot be considered definitive without the inclusion of a very prominent individual who made Palo Alto his home for 50 years, Dr. Thomas B. Kirsch. Tom Kirsch passed away on October 22nd of this year, at home on Fulton St. He was a highly regarded and loved Jungian psychiatrist whose parents James and Hilde Kirsch founded the Los Angeles Jung Institute. While maintaining a private practice on Middlefield Rd, Dr. Kirsch served as President of the Jung Institute of San Francisco in the seventies, as long time President of International Association of Jungian Analysts, traveled the world over to mentor younger colleagues in Europe, South America, China and the Philippines, and rote two major books , "The Jungians" (2000) and "A Jungian Life" (2014).

1 person likes this
Posted by Still Grieving Friend
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 31, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Longtime Palo Altan Stan Whitten belongs in the story above. He elevated those around him, and he is sorely missed.

His contributions at HP when it embodied the HP Way, his many years of service to the community including at the Children's Hospital, and his gentle way and sense of humor - he was a pillar in our community.

I don't see the local In Memoriam, this is from the Gloucester Times - he was originally from MA:
Web Link

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