Viewpoint - September 22, 2010

Editorial: A day to celebrate a life

Friday, Oct. 1, is the day to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man who was an abiding presence in our community for many decades. On that day, at noon, the family, friends and colleagues of Bill Lane will gather at Stanford Memorial Church for a memorial service.

Mr. Lane, who died July 31 at the age of 90, was distinctive among the many extraordinary people in our area in that he not only played a role at the national and even global level, but he cared a great deal about the local community. He was a frequent presence in the most local of venues, from Portola Valley council meetings to The Almanac's newsroom.

Moving to California as a boy in 1928 when his parents bought Sunset magazine, he and his younger brother Mel started out selling subscriptions door-to-door during the Great Depression. After service in the Navy during World War II, they plunged into the family business, and took it over in 1961. Although they sold the business in 1990 to Time Warner, the brothers continued to be active in their many areas of interest. Mel died in 2007.

Bill Lane was a leading philanthropist, giving generously of funds and time to national and local parks and environmental causes, and to his alma mater, Stanford University. From 1985 to 1989, he was ambassador to Australia and Nauru.

A member of Portola Valley's first Town Council, Mr. Lane was a lead donor to the building of the Portola Valley Town Center.

Longtime councilman and former mayor Ted Driscoll noted that while there were many people involved in Portola Valley's incorporation, including Bill Lane, Mr. Lane was unique in his ongoing commitment. "He gave more than half a century of support to this town."

Right up until the end. Mr. Lane regularly drove to town meetings and invariably had a good word for someone.

For those of us at The Almanac, Bill Lane's kindness and personal interest is our lasting memory. He would frequently drop by the office with words of encouragement as well as information and observations about matters large and small.

Last year, when we celebrated Marion Softky's 40th anniversary of writing for The Almanac, Mr. Lane made a point of attending the event, even though he had to interrupt a vacation and fly in from Lake Tahoe to be there.

As Marion wrote in a story on Bill Lane's 90th birthday, nothing was too small or too big to gain Mr. Lane's attention, energy and funding. His deep pockets were accompanied by energetic participation and meticulous attention to detail.

Living in Portola Valley for more than 50 years, he and his wife Jean Lane helped shape the town, both through their generosity, and through personal involvement in nearly every aspect of life there.

Bill Lane will be missed for his large contributions. But he will also be missed by many of us for his personal attention and interest in individuals and local matters in the community.

As Portola Valley Mayor Steve Toben observed, "He never stopped caring about the life of the community."


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