Almanac

News - October 6, 2010

Church packed in celebration of Bill Lane

by Dave Boyce

The tones were not entirely somber Friday, Oct. 1, at a Stanford University campus celebration of the life of equestrian and Portola Valley resident Bill Lane, a tireless benefactor, with his wife Jean Lane, of his home town, his alma mater a few miles to the east, and parks throughout California and the nation.

Five or six cowboy hats were visible among the 1,100 or so people gathered in Memorial Church for the noon event. Also seen: one park ranger hat, a baseball cap or two, a few backpacks, the occasional colorful dress, and a mix of generations that defied Mr. Lane's own demographic. He died at the age of 90 on July 31.

From the 11 remembrances of the day came anecdotes, unsurprising to anyone who knew him, about Mr. Lane's joyous spirit, his love of democracy, his passion for the Western United States, and his energy. But also came reports of a less familiar Bill Lane.

Bill Marken, who worked for Mr. Lane at Sunset magazine, said that while his boss was known for embodying the enthusiasm of a large puppy, he could also be "as fierce as a Rottweiler" in defending the magazine, and "as cunning as a coyote" when the moment called for strategic thinking.

Mr. Lane was of legendary proficiency at multi-tasking when driving, Mr. Marken said. "We should be gratified," he added, that Mr. Lane had not had the options of Twitter and instant messaging.

He was also a wind surfer, and once was too busy having fun to notice the effect that gravity was having on his bathing suit, Mr. Marken noted.

"He was an environmentalist before we had the word," his daughter Sharon said. And he knew the value of perseverance, she said, noting the time her dad towed her around a lake 25 times until she achieved her intended purpose of getting up on one water ski.

"He knew how to seize the day," she added, using as an example her dad's frequent lunches that consisted entirely of ice cream, sometimes in large amounts.

"Dad, that's a lot of ice cream," she recalled, recounting a day he happened to be having a large bowl of it. "Yes, you bet it is," he replied, "and I'll have another bowl after this if I want to."

Mr. Lane's son Bob, heroically containing his breaking voice for the several minutes that he spoke, said that people often asked him what it was like to live in the shadow of his accomplished father.

"Today, for the first time, I realized that that shadow was lovely for me to live in," he said. "He was a humble man, believe it or not. He totally knew what forgiveness was about. He was a gentleman through and through."

"I can't remember one time," his daughter Brenda recalled, "when he ever felt sorry for himself or said (in effect) 'Why me?'"

Praise from officials

Former governor Pete Wilson spoke of Mr. Lane's exemplary citizenship, his persistence in helping to restore the governor's mansion in Sacramento, and his appreciation of the importance of freedom.

Mr. Lane, said Ambassador Kim Beazley, who represents Australia in Washington, D.C., "is the only 90 year old that I know who would consider his life's work only half done." Mr. Lane represented the United States in Canberra in the late 1980s.

"Bill Lane was, above all, a man of the West," said David Kennedy, a co-director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West on the Stanford campus. "It is most fitting that this memorial service is taking place on the campus he loved. (The university and Mr. Lane) have done more than simply embody the West. They have shaped it as well."

"God bless your wondrous West," Mr. Kennedy intoned. "It will feel emptier without you."

Mr. Lane, as regulars at Portola Valley Town Council meetings know, did not rest on his larger achievements, but poured his energy and love of democracy in action into matters involving the town he helped to found.

He loved the give and take and did not avoid matters of controversy, said Mayor Steve Toben. "Bill would take a position, but always gently and always with respect for different points of view," Mr. Toben said. "The constant renewal of democracy was (to Mr. Lane) not a labor but a joy."

In memory of Mr. Lane's habit of carrying a pocket version of the U.S. Constitution in his jacket pocket, copies like his were available at tables outside when the ceremony came to a close with a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace, a classic American spiritual.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, gifts in Mr. Lane's name can be made to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, the California Parks Foundation, the Yosemite Conservancy, or the Portola Valley Open Space Acquisition Fund.

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