Your Memories of Bill Lane

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Residents share their reminiscences...

Founding Father Bill LaneOn Saturday, July 31, 2010, one of Portola Valley's most beloved citizens passed away. Bill Lane was one of the Town's founders and his cheerful and generous nature touched the lives of many Portola Valley residents. We invite all residents and friends of Bill to contribute their fond memories (and photos!) of Bill for inclusion on this special memorial page.

You may email your thoughts and remembrances of Bill directly via the website. If you have a photo you would like to include, please email it directly to the webmaster along with your comments.



Steve Toben, Mayor (tribute at October 1 service)

My subject is Bill’s devotion to the town of Portola Valley, where Bill and Jean raised their family and lived for more than fifty years.

Bill was one of the founders of our town. He led the successful drive to incorporate in 1964, and he was elected to the first Town Council with the largest number of votes.

Bill and his colleagues envisioned a community grounded in three values: frugality, volunteerism, and respect for the land. Over the next five decades, Bill exemplified these values through his philanthropy and his unceasing involvement in town affairs.

The impact of Bill’s commitment to our town can be seen everywhere you turn. Bill and Jean made the lead gift for the construction of the PV Town Hall. They supported the renovation of the 1909 Historic Schoolhouse where the Town Council and town committees hold their meetings. Bill and Jean provided major funding for the Lane Family Room at Valley Presbyterian Church and Lane Hall at Ormondale Elementary School. They created an interest-free fund to help local teachers secure housing. They sponsored the annual poetry contest for children at the Town library (and attended the readings). Bill and Jean made the lead gift to create our open space acquisition fund. Bill even helped the Town acquire historic artifacts once owned by PV residents from the 19th century.

While the tangible manifestations of Bill’s legacy are extraordinary, I am even more grateful for the intangible gifts he gave us.

Bill believed fervently in the importance of local democracy – the give and take of debate among neighbors, the watchful eye of the local newspaper, the role of volunteers in town government. For decades he was a constant presence at Town Council meetings. He always carried a copy of the Constitution in his blazer, and sometimes he would take it out with a flourish, and comment with pride about the state of democracy in Portola Valley. On contentious issues, he would take positions, but always gently and always with great respect for differing points of view. He called Portola Valley a “regional treasure”, where visitors could come to ride and hike the trails and find renewal in the natural world. Often he remarked that citizens must exercise “eternal vigilance” to preserve the town’s values. This remark was always accompanied by a jubilant smile because to Bill the constantly renewing process of democracy was not a labor but a joy.

Bill’s presence had a deep impact on the volunteers who served on the Town Council over the years. As my colleague Maryann Derwin put it, "It just felt honorable to do the work when he was here. He was our beacon.” Bill made unstinting efforts to recognize all of the volunteers who worked on committees, events, and school activities. I’m sure there are dozens of Portola Valley residents here today who have received Christmas cards from Bill -- written in that blue felt tip pen -- with a note saying “Thank you for your service to our town!”

I will close with a personal remembrance.

Last January 13, the Town Council held its first meeting of the year in the old Schoolhouse. It was also my first full meeting as mayor. I arrived a bit early, and when I opened the door I saw that Bill had already taken his usual place in the audience – second row, first seat on the left. He was impeccably dressed, as always, in coat and tie. We’d had an election last fall, and as my colleagues arrived, Bill greeted each Council member with hearty congratulations.

The meeting agenda featured a contentious hearing involving an encroachment permit, and there was tension in the room. But at the beginning of the meeting, Bill stood up to wish the Council well in the coming year and to extol the history of public service in the town. You could feel the tension ease and a sense of decorum settle over the meeting. We got through the hearing, and the audience emptied out, leaving only Bill and our local reporter in the room. The meeting droned on, and around 9:30 I saw Bill start to nod off. He roused himself and rose to head out the door. But just before he left, he looked back at the Council with that radiant smile and gave us all a big thumbs up. Then he stepped outside and closed the door quietly behind him.

Farewell, Bill. Thank you for your service to our town. Thank you for your inspiration to us all.

Ted Driscoll, Vice Mayor
(from August 25 special presentation at Council meeting)

I want to start out by saying I'm not the most eloquent speaker, and I'm going to speak extemporaneously, so this may be a little rough.

Losing Bill creates a VOID for me. A real, tangible VOID. He's been there since the beginning in this town. There are many others who helped get this town off the ground but over the years they stepped away, back into their personal lives. Bill, more than any other, has stayed involved in our Town government for its entire history...right up to until our last meeting a few weeks ago.

I've seen Bill at least monthly for going on three decades. He has remained engaged and supportive the entire time. Dedicating his seat is most appropriate. How many times was he the only citizen other than the Almanac reporter in the room, late some random Wednesday evening.

He was always there when something needed to be done. I'm reminded of his aiding our town's teachers to find housing in town. I'm reminded of seeing his name as the principal donor on plaques from Kauai and Honolulu to Stanford Medical School to this schoolhouse. As I was quoted in the paper a few weeks ago, he spontaneously supported my land mine project a few years ago.

He kicked off the Town Center project with a million dollar donation the night we launched the project. He initially asked for it to be anonymous, but when some skeptical citizens fretted that we were being unduly influenced by unnamed donors, he agreed to be unmasked to clear the issue. No one questioned our motives after that.

And I want to pause to say that Bill never asked to be recognized as just Bill Lane. He was absolutely clear in insisting that it was "Bill and Jean Lane". Whenever I point out Bill's generosity speaking here, he would be chiding me from on high that it was Bill AND JEAN Lane. Jean, I mean no slight in this speech by referring to Bill in the singular.

What I remember the most about Bill was that big smile ever present on his face and the supportive word he had for you. This is a world outlook I long to emulate in my own life. We all should be so friendly and supportive.

It is from this, that VOIDS are made.

Tom Vlasic, Town Planner
(from August 25 special presentation at Council meeting)

Only two months ago George Mader and I had our photo taken with Bill in this Room to mark another milestone in the town’s planning evolution. Bill was going strong at that point and no one would have guessed we would be here today to pay tribute to his memory.

The fact that at 90 Bill was still actively supporting the town and its planning programs with the same intensity and sharpness he did at incorporation, and over the life of the town, is a tribute to who he was and an inspiration for all the rest of us who care about not only Portola Valley but also our greater community.

We will deeply miss Bill and his perspectives, caring, guidance and humor. At the same time, we have to consider ourselves blessed to have known him and to have benefited from all he contributed to the betterment of our environment and society.

To Jean and the rest of Bill’s family, please know that we share your loss and wish you the very best as you move forward in the light of all the wonderful things Bill accomplished. I know we are better persons for having known Bill and experienced his friendship.


Treena Joi, Resident

As the Portola Valley community mourns the passing of Bill Lane, I would like to share a personal account of how his supportive and charitable spirit, hallmarks of how he chose to live his life, touched my life.

I had the opportunity to meet Bill Lane when Corte Madera School was host of the Portola Valley Town Picnic during construction of the Town Center. My classroom was open for visitors, showing off our science equipment, specimen, and student work. Live animals from the Portola Valley Nature Center were delighting people just outside the door and Bill poked his head into the Science Room tentatively. He was barely balancing a heaping plate of barbecue fare so I ushered him in to make use of our tables and chairs and eat in comfort.

Bill was very friendly and seemed genuinely excited to see what we had to offer at CMS. I was pleased to show off our school and generate good will in the community. Little did I realize when I invited him in that he was such a generous benefactor to teachers in the district. When he introduced himself as Bill Lane, the name rang a bell. A year later, I was writing him a thank you card for helping me buy a home.

Every year the teachers receive a binder from the district with various clerical necessities: time sheets, schedules, field trip request forms, and purchase order requests. In the front pocket of that binder there is always a form to apply for the Bill and Jean Lane Staff Housing Assistance Program. The program offers up to $10,000 for rental expenses or $20,000 towards the down payment on the purchase of a home. "The application is simple," the form reads, "the interest rate on these loans is 0% ... no bank or mortgage company can beat these terms," all true, and it spoke of the generosity and welcoming I felt when I started here 8 years ago.

I had the opportunity to take advantage of the program three years ago, and thanks to Bill and Jean Lane, I now have a home to call my own; a home where I have the freedom to paint my walls red and green and where I have to fix my own plumbing. It would not have been possible without the support of the Lane family.

I am very grateful for their support and Bill's legacy lives in on in my humble abode and the lives of everyone he touched. My condolences to his family, he will be missed.

Angela Howard, Town Manager
(from August 25 special presentation at Council meeting)

On behalf of the staff I want to extend our deepest and most sincere condolences, and want you to know how much we will miss Bill and his frequent visits to Town Hall. When he walked into the office he was like a beacon of light.

Bill always came with a smile and a kind word for everyone, and sometimes even chocolates. Bill liked the staff and we liked him right back. And even though Bill hung out with governors and even presidents, he treated everyone with respect and kindness. He loved our pot luck lunches. Bill truly cared about our well being. Back in 2000 Bill expressed concern about the staff’s working conditions, and of course he didn’t just talk, he did something about it. He wrote “the donation must be used to benefit Town staff,” and enclosed was a very generous check.

Perhaps Bill’s greatest attribute was that he simply believed in people, he believed that good hard work should be rewarded, that people should be given opportunities, and that everyone should be treated fairly and with respect. I learned a great deal from him.

We are all extremely proud to work in the Bill and Jean Lane Town Hall, and we will never forget what Bill and Jean did for us. We will all miss him very much.

Janet McDougall, Assistant Town Manager

Bill Lane at Town PicnicWhile I didn't know Bill long, I've known of the generosity of the Lanes for a very long time.  In my home town of South Lake Tahoe, the Lanes generously gave to the Tahoe Tallac Association, a cultural arts organization I was involved with.  I will never forget how Bill sought me out at my first Town Council meeting to welcome me after he learned from mutual friends at Tahoe that I would be working for the Town.  His warmth and kindness made me feel right at home.  I snapped this photo of Bill at the 2009 picnic. For me, it captures his fun-loving spirit, as well as the love he always had for his beloved Portola Valley.

Mary Hufty, Resident

I have a small personal memory of Bill. After Admiral Quilter died, as a special treat for his widow Phyllis, I picked up Phyllis with my pony and basket cart at her house and drove her over to Bill's for a big garden club meeting. It was her first outing after his death. Bill was there and lots of happy people. The pony and cart were swamped with admirers. Chocolate stood very still for her accolades and the warmth of her skin and the sweet smells of animal and barn yard were dear to all. Phyllis was so pleased and able to smile just from the simple rhythm of the cart's motion and the sound of hoof beats on the road. A moment of peace in our crazy speeded up world. And Bill who knows (knew) my love for the blue birds I worked to bring back on the trails in Westridge with a blue bird trail project, had a blue bird house at his front door with a (toy) bluebird already moved in to show his support. He had that attention to detail! I know that somewhere over the rainbow blue birds are flying with him.

Here’s another story:

Although riding is something one can do into the 80's it becomes more difficult in the 90's. But Bill never missed equestrian events at CETA, the Red Barn at Stanford, the Folger Barn in Woodside, or the parties at the Shack Riders on Sandhill Road. So many groups were made possible by his enthusiasm and generosity; for example, he helped start up WHOA (Woodside Horse Owners' Association) five years ago to bring the Woodside and Portola Valley area the "Day of the Horse Celebration" and has supported it every year since. As he was a neighbor, I asked him a few years ago to ride over to the Shack with me. He always kept horses at home even after he was not using them much; he loved just to see them. Although he couldn't say yes, his response was so game as always, I will never forget it, "I am planning on doing much more riding soon! I'll never give up my horses." I imagine that he is doing much more riding now and I feel his cheerful spirit and his determination to support the beautiful community for which he set the standard at every turn of the trail.

Sharon Hanlon, Town Clerk

Bill exemplified all that is good in a person. He held many great qualities, but a few that stood out for me were his kindness, his sincerity and how he always had time to stop and talk. Bill treated everyone fairly, not one more important than the next.

We shared the love of trees, mountains and skies. This world needs more Bills.

They say you never know the impact one can have on another one’s life; Bill has inspired me to be a better person.

Lenora Ferro, Resident

Each day we feel the stab of loss
As your absence registers anew.

Among us, in form of near-giant porportions,
You mingled,
As if Nature's reminder
To stretch ourselves
To the grander perspective
To re-focus our vision
Of community away from
The too-common lens
Of "I-glass."

We imagine you now,
Body discarded for speed-of-light walking
And ethereal cavorting...
Perhaps among the Greeks of ages
Past, those progenitors of Western civilization
Whose generational crops
You so faithfully tended
In modern-day world:

"Bill Lane, twenty-first century man...solon of a sort,"
You'll introduce yourself,
Ten-gallon hot doffed,
Firm, meaty hand
Extended in greeting,

With that signature smile auguring the heart of gold
On offer.
(No soul of any age or eon
Could mistake the ambassadorial charm
Or the inner graces attendant.)

What news you will bring!
What a stir you'll be causing!

What of us--
Our grief-torn spirits and daily lives
Now bereft of your presence?!

Here, too, though, you inform us -
Through the conduct of your life and the outsized legacy
You bequeath.

American to the cellular level,
You were a tireless
Promoter of democracy,
Incrementally achieved
On the front lines - community by community, person by person

Gentleman, man of principle, patriot, solon of a sort,
Ambassador at-home, overseas and at-large; philanthropist,
Businessman, community leader and treasure,
You leave us
To practice your example
And exercise the privilege of carrying forward
In sacred public domain
The civility, generosity and magnanimity
You mirrored to all.
Our diminutive town is blessed forever
With all the energy and love
You lavished on it (us)
And the ethos you fostered and imbued in it (us);
Our community is enlarged and enriched
In spirit and in tangible resources
Underwritten with your treasure and talent;
Our one blue marble is a better place
For all the ways you made it home and
Husbanded it with our signature brand of Humanity.

Death may have claimed your body, but
We who loved you, admired you
And counted on you to be our best,
Clutch to our hearts
Your spirit
While passing it along
To immortality.

Rest in peace, Bill,
Knowing the greatness you achieved
Through lifetime labors of love
Instructs and inspires us
To carry on
Your uncommonly grand legacy.