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Hewlett Invested in California Spirit

By Arjay Miller, co-founder, Public Policy Institute of California, and David W. Lyon, President and CEO, Public Policy Institute of California
This opinion article appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on January 19, 2001

Bill Hewlett was a Californian. He had deep roots in San Francisco through his family, and interests that were fueled by a California style of life. He was an innovator, an inventor, an investor, a hiker, a hunter, a philanthropist, an enthusiast, and a visionary. He sang hymns and knew their words by heart. He documented flora throughout the state with an exhaustive photographic record. He was a family man, a skier, a horseman, a rancher, a builder, an environmentalist, a scientist, and a soldier. He created a global enterprise and a local following, wherever he went.

Bill was an innovator. Bill and David Packard, founders of the Hewlett-Packard Co., launched the high-tech revolution with the reality and symbols of innovation. A scientific rigor, a willingness to take risks, a garage, and an idea - an audio oscillator. In 1939, the product found a market in Southern California with Walt Disney Studios, and a movie called "Fantasia." Today, H-P is an icon of modern technology; a symbol of all that is best about the California way of doing business, and a success story of two men whose idea of leadership was "management by walking around."

Bill was an enthusiast. His interests spanned the professional worlds of engineering, history, botany, opera, and science. He was a member of the National Academy of Science. One of his favorite books was "Up and Down California," written by William Brewer in the 1860s. Brewer, too, was a member of the National Academy of Science, and he traveled extensively during those early years of statehood. The man, his writings, his attention to detail and his love of the state inspired Bill. Bill photographed and documented thousands of varieties of flora on properties in California and Colorado. His thoroughness was that of a scientist, his passion was that of an artist.

Bill was a builder. It was not enough to William Hewlett that he founded one of the most successful businesses in California's modern history. He used his wealth to give back to California and the world. In 1977 he and his so, Walter Hewlett, founded the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation - laying the foundation for a professionally-run foundation that is today one of the leading contributors to understanding conflict resolution and to addressing the challenges of world population growth. The foundation is not only an indication of the generosity of his philanthropy, but it is a symbol of California's role in working solutions to worldwide problems. California has emerged as a leading center of philanthropy in the nation, and Bill Hewlett has set a standard for current and future generations to follow.

Bill was a visionary. The downturn of California's economy in the early 1990s combined with an explosion of complex social and economic problems gave him cause for concern. The conflicts between growth and environmental preservation, between farming and new housing, between industry and clean air, between fish hatcheries and irrigation, are couched in public debate full of rhetoric and ideology. Bill saw few facts and much friction. He teamed with Roger Heyns, former chancellor of UC-Berkeley, to create the Public Policy Institute of California - an organization designed to go beyond the friction with facts that were not driven by ideology or interests. He endowed the organization with enough resources to provide answers to tough questions today and for generations to come.

First and last, Bill was a Californian - whether expanding the reach of the Hewlett Packard Company to offices in Texas, Taiwan, and Tokyo or skiing on the slopes at Lake Tahoe. He invested in California institutions, including a library in Berkeley, an engineering school at Stanford, a college in Menlo Park, the memorial chapel at Stanford, and the opera house in San Francisco. His contributions were numerous and grand, but his need for recognition modest. His heart was filled with hymns; his twinkle was his salutation, and his humor a calling card.

His death is an immense loss to the people of California. His legacies will serve them for generations.


The Public Policy Institute of California: A Think Tank for the 21st Century