Peter Haas dead at 86; helped endow public service center

Peter Haas

Peter Haas

Peter Edgar Haas, who championed social responsibility in business across the three decades that he stood at the helm of family-owned Levi Strauss & Co., died on Dec. 3 at the age of 86—leaving behind a similar legacy of civic leadership through the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford, which was founded with a generous donation he and his wife, Miriam, made.

The university's Public Service Center became the Haas Center for Public Service in 1989, honoring the $5 million contribution from the Haas family to the founding endowment. A $1.2 million gift from the Miriam and Peter Haas Fund simultaneously established the Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professorship in Public Service. The first chair holder was the late John W. Gardner. The Haas Center building was completed and dedicated in 1993.

"His name and memory and legacy at the center will be reflected in the public service work of our students," said Professor Leonard Ortolano, who holds the Peter E. Haas Directorship at the center. In 2004, Peter and Miriam "Mimi" Haas, along with the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, endowed the directorship position and contributed substantially toward a new program endowment for core service-learning initiatives.

Mimi Haas has served on the Haas Center's National Advisory Board since 1989 and remains an active member. Over the years, her husband also was deeply involved with the center, Ortolano said.

In addition to being a businessman and philanthropist, Peter Haas was a tireless civic leader in the Jewish community, throughout San Francisco and in academia. Haas and his family have given generously to his alma mater, the University of California-Berkeley. But from 1971 to 1981, he also served on the Stanford University Board of Trustees; and from 1983 to 1986, he was a member of the university's Major Gifts Committee.

Former university President Gerhard Casper spoke at the memorial service for Haas on Dec. 6 at the Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, as did Robert Berdahl, UC-Berkeley's former chancellor. The California Marching Band also performed at the service.

Casper said Haas had personally chosen him to speak at his memorial. They were good friends, and at the service, Casper honored that relationship with warm and humorous remarks about the Cal-Stanford rivalry, as well as with heartfelt observations about Haas' character.

"Among Peter's most lovable characteristics was the fact that he was free from hypocrisy and affectation in whatever he did," Casper said at the service. "In a world where there is much pretense and deception, we have as a beacon our memories of Peter Haas as a good person."

Born in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 1918, Haas graduated from UC-Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in economics in 1940. Three years later, he graduated cum laude as a Baker Scholar from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. Haas also served as a trustee for the UC Berkeley Foundation from 1966 to 1975, and again from 1994 to 1997.

Among his other achievements, Haas will be remembered for advocating racial integration in American clothing factories prior to the U.S. civil rights movement. When San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. sought to expand in the South, Haas told local officials that the company would only open its plants there if black and white workers would enjoy equal status.

For nearly three decades, Peter and his older brother, Walter A. Haas Jr., managed the company together. Peter Haas served as president and member of the board of directors from 1970 to 1981. In 1976, he became president and chief executive officer, and from 1981 until 1989, he was chairman of the board. From 1989 until his death, he was chairman of the company's executive committee. Walter Haas Jr. died in 1995.

In addition to his wife, Peter Haas is survived by his two stepsons, Ari Lurie and Daniel Lurie. He also is survived by his two children from his first marriage to Josephine Baum, Peter Haas Jr. and Margaret Haas, as well as four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Peter Haas' memory to the Child Care Facilities Fund of the Low Income Investment Fund, 100 Pine St., Suite 1800, San Francisco, CA 94111, or to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco, CA 94103.