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Issue date: June 14, 2000

Joseph Quilter dies; he was Portola Valley pioneer, trail builder Joseph Quilter dies; he was Portola Valley pioneer, trail builder (June 14, 2000)

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, June 16, in Stanford Memorial Church for Rear Admiral Joseph F. Quilter (U.S. Navy, Retired), one of the giants of Portola Valley and guardian of its trails, who suffered a stroke at his Portola Valley home early June 7 and died later that morning at Stanford Hospital. He was 93.

Ever since he moved to Portola Valley in 1955, Admiral Quilter was a commanding presence and an active participant in shaping the community.

"We always referred to him as the Admiral," recalls Bill Lane, another town leader and pioneer, who worked closely with him through incorporation of Portola Valley and afterward. "He was one of the heroes of our town. He'll be remembered for his integrity and convictions -- strong convictions."

Admiral Quilter's greatest legacy in Portola Valley has been his commitment to building a system of trails that allow residents to get around town on foot or horseback. "Trails are a real asset to the community," he told the Almanac in an interview last year. "In the old parts of town, they're a way of getting around without being on the pavement. In the newer areas, which have open space, they're a way to see open spaces."

Up until the very end, Admiral Quilter would go out regularly to check trails and culverts. The morning before he died, he taught a computer class at Little House and came to Town Hall to check an agenda for a meeting, says Mary Hufty, Trail Committee chair.

He also had an amazing memory for trails. "He knew every detail about every culvert and every easement on every trail. He knew the house numbers along every trail in the entire valley," says Dr. Hufty. "Win or lose, he kept his sense of humor and never got bitter."

The retired rear admiral who used to tool around Portola Valley in his 1960 Morris Minor convertible was forged by 30 years in the Navy.

Joe Quilter was born on Good Friday, 1907, in Binghamton, New York, the oldest of eight children.

As a youth, he developed a passion for airplanes, and entered the Naval Academy in 1924. After earning his wings in 1930, "Slim" Quilter flew open cockpit Vought biplanes, the kind that were catapulted from a ship and had to land in the water.

For five years, he served on the cruiser Augusta, often used by President Roosevelt. From 1933 to 1936, his ship served "on the China Station," cruising the Pacific and Orient, showing the flag.

Another Quilter legend was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1934. He flew under the newly built bridge across Sydney harbor, not once, but twice, before being chewed out by the captain, who was Chester Nimitz.

Mr. Lane learned of the episode when he went to Australia as ambassador. "People are still talking about it," he says.

In 1936, Lt. Quilter married Adrienne Balch of Hawaii in Manila. They had two children. He spent most of World War II in Washington helping design and supervise construction of aircraft carriers.

In 1945, Commander Quilter commissioned the new aircraft carrier Shangri-La, and subsequently ran the ship as executive officer. Then he saw his only action in the bitter Okinawa campaign against suicide kamikaze attackers. He was awarded the Bronze Star. In a later assignment, he was a senior naval observer of the atomic bomb tests at Bikini.

For his final post before retiring and moving to Portola Valley, Captain Quilter commanded the seaplane tender Salisbury Sound, which was home ship to the Navy's flying boat patrol bomber operations along the Korean coast.

Retiring in 1954, Admiral Quilter received an MBA from Stanford and worked at Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. until 1968. His first wife, Adrienne, died in 1974. He later married Phyllis Blum, widow of the late Frank Blum. They became officers in the Computer Club at Little House in Menlo Park, active environmentalists and world travelers.

Admiral Quilter is survived by his wife, Phyllis Blum Quilter; a brother, Brendan Quilter of Ann Arbor, Michigan; sisters Patricia Quilter of Binghamton, New York, and Frances Quilter Donovan of Montrose, Pennsylvania; a son, John F. Quilter of Brisbane; a daughter, Jane Quilter Kennedy of San Francisco; a granddaughter, Susannah Kennedy Poppensieker of Hamburg, Germany; and two great-grandsons.

The family suggests donations to the Portola Valley Open Space Acquisition Fund (PVOSAF) at Portola Valley Town Hall, 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028; Youth and Family Assistance, 609 Price Ave., Redwood City, CA 94063; or a favorite charity.


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