Herman Christensen, an Atherton resident since 1965 and chair of the town's Planning Commission, died unexpectedly on Dec. 9 at the age of 83.
Mr. Christensen had been working out at the gym earlier that day, but collapsed after returning home, according to his family. The cause of death has not yet been determined, a family member said.
Longtime Planning Commissioner Phil Lively said Mr. Christensen "was marvelous to work with -- a sheer delight. He was even-tempered ... and as chairman he had a steady hand."
Mr. Christensen had just been re-elected chair of the commission earlier this month by his colleagues, Mr. Lively said. "His shoes will be impossible to fill."
Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said in an email that Mr. Christensen's death "is a great loss for the town of Atherton. Herm's long-term position on the ... Planning Commission was a valuable contribution to the town."
Mr. Christensen earned his undergraduate degree in art and architecture from Dartmouth College, and a master's degree in political science from Stanford. Between those periods of study, he joined the U.S. Marines, serving as a lieutenant.
With his brother, Raymond, Mr. Christensen took over their father's home-building company, Herman Christensen and Sons, and expanded it into a general building contractor and real estate development business.
He was "passionate about education," his family said, and he served for some time on the Menlo Park City School District board. He also was a member of the Castilleja School Foundation board for 10 years, and a supporter of Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto.
Interested in local history, he also served on the San Mateo County Historical Association board.
In addition to his service on the Planning Commission, Mr. Christensen's civic activities also included a stint as chair of the San Mateo County Grand Jury.
A member of the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton since 1961, he served a term as president of that organization. He remained an active member, taking tennis lessons and working out at the gym, until the day of his death, his family said.
Mr. Christensen is survived by his wife of 53 years, Isobel; four children and their spouses, Maren (Bill Welch) Gavin (Tricia), Andrew (Jenny), and Amy (Drew Curby); his brother, Raymond; seven grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Mr. Christensen's life will be held in January.
The family prefers that memorial contributions in Mr. Christensen's name be made to Eastside College Prep, 1041 Myrtle St., East Palo Alto, CA 94303; San Mateo County Historical Association, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City, CA 94063; or Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St., Palo Alto, CA 94301.