Jean Lane, philanthropist and environmentalist, dies at 87


Jean Lane, a philanthropist, environmentalist, gardener and notable Portola Valley resident, died at her home on Nov. 18 after a brief illness. She was 87.

A celebration of her life is planned for early 2018 at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley.

Donna Jean Lane's philanthropic and environmental activities were a complement to those of Bill Lane, her husband of 55 years. The couple was noteworthy in Portola Valley since the town's incorporation in 1964, though the spotlight tended to find Mr. Lane, the longtime publisher of Sunset magazine, the U.S. ambassador-at-large to the First International Ocean Exposition in Japan during the Ford administration, and the U.S. ambassador to Australia during the Reagan administration. He died in 2010.

Jean Lane co-founded the Westridge Garden Club and was a docent at Stanford University's research-oriented Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. She served on several boards, including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii, and the Filoli Center in Woodside.

The Lanes were major and early donors to the construction of an environmentally advanced Town Center complex that opened in 2008, and their two names adorn the entrance to Portola Valley's Town Hall. Through their philanthropy, they helped restore the Historic Schoolhouse where the town's governing bodies meet and helped build a trail in the Woodside Highlands neighborhood, a hall at Ormondale School and a family room at Valley Presbyterian Church.

The couple would deliberate about philanthropic decisions at home, according an account by Mr. Lane recalled by former mayor Gary Nielsen. "They'd sort of do it over the dinner table, between the two of them ... which is kind of a neat thing," Mr. Nielsen said.

The Lanes were major donors to the construction of an environmental education center that bears their names in Edgewood Park & Natural Preserve at the northern border of Woodside. The couple also won approval from the Town Council in 2006 to establish their 10-acre Westridge Drive property as a conservation easement to guarantee the preservation of its current natural state.

"Jean was the First Lady of Portola Valley," former mayor Steve Toben said in an email. "She was the more quiet member of the Lane duo, but she was no less emphatic than Bill about civic duty and the obligation of generosity to her community. The countless gifts the Lanes made over many decades always bore both Bill and Jean's names."

Jasper Ridge has an environmental education classroom named after her. Philippe Cohen, the preserve's former executive director, said in an email that she "had a rare grace and kindness that was contagious. ... there were so many circumstances when she and Bill provided support during the most critical times, and mostly in ways invisible to others. But I knew and was grateful for her presence and her willingness to come to the aid of (Jasper Ridge) whenever they were needed to make a difference."

Donna Jean Gimbel grew up in Lincoln, Illinois, where she liked to walk in the woods and collect rocks. She could "see the universe in a grain of sand," her family said. She graduated with a major in art history and interior design from Northwestern University -- an alma mater that has since attached her name to a piano performance prize and to an artist-in-residence program in the humanities.

She played the harpsichord and liked Baroque music, Mr. Nielsen said, adding that he and his wife would accompany her to concerts.

She met her husband while working as an interior designer in Chicago. Through Sunset magazine, Mr. Lane championed his take on the spirit of the West, and she was there with him, Mr. Toben said. "Jean was no doubt Sunset's most important reader," he said. "Her home and garden exemplified understated elegance and respect for the natural world that were hallmarks of the Lanes and the magazine."

Mr. Toben said he sat next to her at the town's annual volunteer appreciation dinner several years after Mr. Lane had died. "A very long line of well-wishers quickly formed at her chair, and she spent the entire dinner in conversation with everyone," Mr. Toben said. "She never touched her food. Everyone was graced by her presence."

She is survived by her daughters, Sharon Louise Lane of North San Juan, California, and Brenda Lane Munks of Portola Valley; son Robert Laurence Lane of Atherton; brother Arthur Gimbel of San Mateo; and five grandchildren.

The family prefers that memorial contributions be made in her name to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, 3530 Papalina Road, Kalaheo, HI 96741.


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4 people like this
Posted by Philippe
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 4, 2017 at 12:52 pm

She was the definition of generosity. I will miss her.

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