William Kimball, former trustee and philanthropist, dies at 86

William Rice Kimball

William Rice Kimball

William Rice Kimball, a major philanthropist in the Bay Area and beyond whose many civic posts included service on the university Board of Trustees from 1974 to 1985, died on June 17. Kimball, who lived in Belvedere, was 86.

During his three terms as a trustee, Kimball served as president of the board from 1981 to 1985. He is the donor of the bell and clock tower at the corner of Escondido and Lasuen Malls, and Kimball and his second wife were the principal donors of Kimball Hall dormitory. He graduated from Stanford in 1941 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

President Emeritus Donald Kennedy described Kimball as a wonderful friend and an effective leader. Kennedy, in office from 1980 to 1992, said Kimball was "enormously thoughtful and loyal" while serving as board president in the early and mid-eighties—a time when the economy was in flux and presenting challenges at Stanford.

"He was quite interested in other people's views. He was a better listener than a talker in some ways," Kennedy said. "Even before he was on the board, he had been the kind of person that people at the institution would consult with. He loved Stanford."

Kimball was raised in Ogden, Utah, where he was born in April 1919. His philanthropy spanned his home state, as well as Virginia, New York, Missouri and the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to education, Kimball supported the arts, the environment and historical preservation. He founded a fiberglass products company in the 1950s and served on the boards of several top companies during his business career.

Kimball has been called a pioneer in the use of fiberglass plastics through Kimball Manufacturing Corp., where he also was president. He went on to found Kimball & Co., which manages various operations and investments. He also had been a director on the boards of Levi Strauss & Co., Cox Communications, Clorox Co. and RSI Corp.

In addition, Kimball co-founded Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, the Acorn Foundation and the Kimball Foundation. The Acorn Foundation gives grants to grassroots organizations for environmentally sustainable building projects, and the Kimball Foundation supports nonprofit groups that assist poor and disadvantaged families in the Bay Area.

Kimball's extensive civic service in and around San Francisco included being chairman emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences' board of trustees and board member for the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Symphony and the American Conservatory Theater. He was also the founding chairman of the Kimball Art Center and School in Park City, Utah.

Endowments at Stanford that bear the Kimball name include the William R. Kimball Professorship of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, the Sara Hart Kimball Professorship in the Humanities (Sara Hart Kimball was his second wife), the William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball University Fund for Undergraduate Education and the Gretchen B. Kimball Directorship of Orchestral Studies. Gretchen Kimball is his third wife.

Since 1997, 48 graduate students have been awarded William R. and Sara Hart Kimball endowed fellowships in science and engineering, according to the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research and Graduate Policy. Endowed undergraduate funds include the William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Scholarship Fund and the William R. Kimball Scholarship Fund.

He also helped endow the Donald Kennedy Chair in the School of Humanities and Sciences. He and Sara Hart Kimball established an athletic scholarship as well.

"Bill was a great leader and a great philanthropist," said Burt McMurtry, current chair of the Board of Trustees. "No one enjoyed giving more than Bill."

The tower that Kimball donated to the university houses the clock mechanism and chime bells that hung in Memorial Church until the 1906 earthquake brought them down. (After the quake the items were temporarily housed in a shingled wooden structure behind the church until the tower was completed in 1983.)

Kimball and his second wife donated $3 million for the Kimball Hall residence so that students would be guaranteed housing throughout their undergraduate years, the alumnus told the Stanford Daily in 1991—the year the dorm opened. Kimball noted that the Residential Education program was one of the most important aspects of his own undergraduate experience.

"The broader you can be in your academic courses the better, because once you get a job you tend to specialize," he told the Daily. "Now's the time to get a broader experience—especially at a place like Stanford."

Also an active volunteer for Stanford, Kimball co-chaired the university's Centennial Campaign (1986-1992), and in 1987, he was awarded the Gold Spike, which recognizes exceptional volunteer leadership service in development for Stanford.

Other education-related posts Kimball has held include trustee for Dominican University of California in San Rafael and for an independent high school in Marin County. His name graces a theater in Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, the Kimball Green Room at the new San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Kimball Art Education Gallery at the new M. H. de Young Memorial Museum and the Kimball Ballroom at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.

Kimball's grandfather, E. O. Wattis, was involved in the building of Hoover Dam and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Kimball's passion for history was evident in his service as honorary chair of the national council of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and membership on the national council of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A natural history museum at the California Academy of Sciences under construction in Golden Gate Park also will be named after Kimball.

After graduating from Stanford, Kimball joined the 7th Army Infantry Division and served five years during World War II—surviving five beachhead landings in the Pacific. He earned a Bronze Star Medal and retired as a major.

After the war, he received a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard University in 1947. Five years prior, he married Collier Carter. They were married for 40 years and lived in Kentfield, where they raised their children. In 1984, Kimball married Sara Hart. Two years after her death in 1997, he married Gretchen Reinecke Bates, who survives him.

Kimball is also survived by his first wife; sons Stephen Carter Kimball of Kentfield and Jeffrey Lang Kimball of New York; daughters Anne Collier Kimball of Seattle and Joan Kimball Leiby of Denver; stepson Robert Mattison Reinecke of Turin, Italy; three daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kimball was preceded in death by sister Barbara Kimball Browning, who also graduated from Stanford and endowed a professorship in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

A memorial service for Kimball was held on June 27 in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. Donations may be made to the William R. Kimball Memorial Fund for the Kimball Museum of Natural History at the California Academy of Sciences, 875 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94103.