Longtime Woodside volunteer George Offen dies


As a volunteer for the town and community of Woodside, George Offen was a standout. His efforts extended more than three decades, with three terms on the local elementary school board in the 1980s and 1990s, and 20 years (starting in 1998) on committees associated with the town's response to issues of sustainability, conservation and the environment. Most recently, he presided over the 2018 May Day parade as the grand marshal.

Offen died at home on Sunday, Aug. 5. He was 79, his wife Karen Offen said.

A commemoration honoring her husband is being planned for early September, she wrote in an email.

Offen was president of the Woodside Elementary School District governing board three times and co-founded the Woodside School Foundation, which provides significant financial support to the school district.

Among the school board's initiatives while Offen was a member: hiring a superintendent and putting a parcel tax and a construction bond before the voters, according to a recent retrospective for The Almanac. He was also a judge and coach for the school's science fair.

As a member of the Conservation and Environmental Health Committee and its successor committee, Offen was chair during the establishment of a tree-protection ordinance, helped mobilize the town in responding to sudden oak death disease and was instrumental in developing the town's climate action plan.

"George was one of the town's great leaders for many years," former chair of the conservation committee Jason Mendelson said. "He was the most dedicated, most loyal, most impactful member of the committee that I knew."

"He never failed me, he never let any of us down," Mendelson said. "He was the most reliable member of that committee. I think he was the most effective volunteer and, in effect, public servant that Woodside has ever known. ... I can't speak highly enough of him."

In a proclamation honoring Offen's 20 years of service in town government, Mayor Chris Shaw wrote, "George is an unqualified champion of the environment and the model of an engaged Town resident."

The proclamation will be read at the Sept. 11 Town Council meeting, Town Manager Kevin Bryant wrote in an email. "He was a true gentleman and I will miss him," Bryant added.

Offen was a native of London, having been born there after his parents escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938. He spent his early years traveling to underground bomb shelters in London during the Blitz. The family emigrated to New York City via Montevideo, Uruguay, in a perilous wartime ocean journey, Karen Offen wrote.

The family settled in San Francisco. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, Offen attended the Town School for Boys and Lick-Wilmerding High School. At Stanford University, Offen earned a varsity letter on the fencing team, his wife said.

Offen served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He and Karen married in 1965 after meeting accidentally on a chair lift at Squaw Valley Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe. Karen Offen is a noted historian of women and feminism. The couple have two daughters.

Offen earned a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford and a master's in that field from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As a senior technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Offen's research focused on the reduction of air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, specifically mercury emissions, according to a bio on the institute's website.

Offen enjoyed hiking and running locally, particularly in Huddart Park, his wife wrote. The couple traveled widely, the latest trip to five national parks in Utah.

Offen is survived by his wife Karen; daughters Catherine and Stephanie; and four grandchildren.

The family asks that donations in Offen's memory be made to Mission Hospice & Home Care in San Mateo; KDFC, his favorite music station; or the San Francisco Opera.


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8 people like this
Posted by Robert Hooper
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2018 at 12:35 pm

When I was a Woodside resident, I had the pleasure and honor of serving alongside George on the Woodside School Citizens Bond Oversight Committee from 2014-17. He was an incredible committee member often asking detailed questions that indicated not only his intelligence but his thorough review of all documents that were submitted to the committee. He was a solid caring member of the community that should serve as a model for all. I will miss our warm conversations and personal interactions. HE WILL BE GREATLY MISSED.

6 people like this
Posted by Tom Johnson
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 6, 2018 at 2:56 pm

I always think of George when I read this quote

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead

George has changed all of us and our town for the better

I feel honored to have worked with him on so many town environmental issues. He was such a caring individual working hard for our community.

Always a twinkle in his eye and smile on his face.
He will be truly missed by all...

5 people like this
Posted by Revis James
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm

I had the privilege of working with George as a colleague during my 23 years at the Electric Power Research Institute. All of the compliments about George’s character and contributions could equally be applied to his professional career. George was a brilliant, highly effective researcher who made so many important contributions to reducing the environmental impact of electric power generation. He also was a great collaborator and colleague who inspired others with his insights and his work ethic. He left an indelible impact, and I will always remember him. - Sincerely, Revis James

6 people like this
Posted by Maggie Mah
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 6, 2018 at 5:52 pm

I became acquainted with George when we were both on The General Plan Update Task Force. In a room full of people with strong opinions, his was the quiet voice that stood out with kindness and gentle humor. He was uniquely able to sort through complex issues and find the common ground upon which we could all agree was a good place to stand.

A man of enormous integrity, George gave a great deal to this community with his caring intellect and also with his willingness to meet a problem first hand. Just one short year ago, I encountered George on the side of the road carrying a large black garbage bag and a hoe. He explained that he was out doing his part to eradicate a noxious weed called "Stinkwort." Although I'll do my best to carry on George's mission to rid the town of Stinkwort, I'll never look at that weed in quite the same way.

1 person likes this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 7, 2018 at 7:31 am

pogo is a registered user.

George was a good man and devoted to his family and community. He did so much and will be missed by many.

3 people like this
Posted by Jacqueline Rosati
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2018 at 8:52 am

George was one of the greatest colleagues with whom I've had the privilege to work. He was so knowledgeable and always took the time to educate me on the underlying scientific principles for his research without complaint. He was patient and generous with his time and knowledge sharing and was always an example of professionalism. I will always cherish the opportunity I had to work with him and the knowledge he shared with me about EPRI, working with engineers and the power industry. My thoughts and prayers are with Karen and George's family to whom he was so devoted.

5 people like this
Posted by Ryan Romines
a resident of Woodside School
on Aug 7, 2018 at 9:39 pm

What a lovely article about a wonderful man. I have fond memories of George. I particularly remember the time he volunteered to tutor a few of us in high school calculus...kind, patient, caring and funny. My heartfelt condolences to Karen, Stephanie, Catherine and the town of Woodside.

Like this comment
Posted by Jill Gay
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I know George Often through my family, who also escaped to Latin America and then to the US during WWII. I met George and Karen when they lived in the DC area, where I live and was so impressed by their kindness and knowledge.Best, Jill, daughter of Elisabeth and Joseph Gay, friends of George's mom, Ellie Offen

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