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STANFORD -- Ann Shaver Sterling, widow of Stanford University's fifth president, J.E. Wallace Sterling, died Saturday, Aug. 10, at her Woodside home following a long period of declining health. She was 85.
As the university's First Lady from 1949 to 1968, she entertained thousands of alumni, students, staff, community groups and dignitaries, earning a reputation for her graciousness, wit, elegance and total dedication to the institution and everyone associated with it.
Born Oct. 11, 1905, in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, Ann Marie Shaver was descended from a Pennsylvania Dutch family of British loyalists who moved to Canada during the American Revolution.
She met her future husband while both were students at Victoria College, University of Toronto - she was elected "permanent class vice president" her senior year, and he was "permanent class president."
After earning her degree in 1927, Ann Shaver taught marketing and household management at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for three years.
She married "Wally" Sterling on Aug. 7, 1930, and a few months later the couple drove to Stanford where Wallace Sterling worked as a research assistant in the Hoover Library while studying for his doctorate in history.
To help make ends meet, Ann Sterling went to work, serving as assistant director of Roble Hall, then a women's dormitory, and later as an assistant in biochemistry for several quarters.
In 1937, the couple left for Pasadena, where Wallace Sterling accepted a teaching position at California Institute of Technology, eventually rising to the position of the chairman of the faculty - a marked achievement for a humanist at a technical university. In 1939, the Sterlings began their family: A son William was followed by two girls, Susan and Judy. In July 1948, Wallace Sterling became director of the Huntington Library and Art Museum in San Marino, Calif.
Meanwhile, the Stanford community was stunned by the sudden death in January 1948 of its fourth president, Donald B. Tresidder, after only five years in office.
In late October, Sterling was invited to take over leadership of Stanford.
With three young children in tow, Ann Sterling took up residence in the Lou Henry Hoover House on April 1, 1949, and soon organized a reception for 750 to celebrate her husband's inauguration.
In the wake of his brilliant career as a Stanford president, Wallace Sterling paid tribute to his wife for her help. Her presence, he said, was pervasive in what was achieved at Stanford as it grew to national stature. In a 1979 interview with Stanford News Service, he reminisced:
"The great lady whom I married deserves an honored place in the story. Ann has been such a wonderful partner. Her job was hard to define but she made it work. She gave time and effort to Stanford and in doing so surrendered service on other fronts which were of great interest to her."
He enjoyed telling the story of his wife's run-in with a campus policeman. While the Sterlings were away on a trip, several roads on the fast-growing campus were converted to one-way streets. Driving to the bookstore upon her return, Mrs. Sterling was stopped by a campus police officer named Karl - the legendary Capt. Midnight.
"Mrs. Sterling, do you realize you are going down a one-way street the wrong way?" Capt. Midnight asked.
"Of course, Karl, I am only going one way," she replied.
Her husband's punchline: "What does one say in such a situation when both parties speak the truth?"
Her modest and friendly husband also enjoyed Mrs. Sterling's skill at putting people in their proper place, and recounted the time at a Hoover House faculty reception when his wife found herself trapped by a notable campus bore who talked of nothing but himself. When a young faculty couple approached, Mrs. Sterling introduced them to Prof. John Doe and made her escape saying to Doe, "Wouldn't it be nice if you told them how interesting you are?"
One of the dominant figures through most of the Sterling years was former U.S. President Herbert Hoover. Each summer, Ann Sterling played hostess when Hoover stayed with the Sterling family for several weeks. When the Sterlings had their last meeting with Hoover, he presented Mrs. Sterling with an amethyst he acquired in China, the Chinese equivalent of a St. Christopher's medal.
Ann Sterling's campus involvement was not limited to entertainment. In the early 1950s, she helped found the Committee for Art at Stanford, which worked to reorganize the Stanford Museum, still in disarray and disrepair from the 1906 earthquake.
When she became aware that secretaries often did not know their counterparts in other university departments, she launched the Distaff Club (now known as Stanford Staffers) and hosted the group's annual Christmas party.
Before moving out of Hoover House when her husband retired in 1968, Ann Sterling hosted a large party for the Corporation Yard maintenance staff and their families to thank them for their upkeep of the president's residence.
She was a member of the senior auxiliary of Stanford Children's Convalescent Home and later its successor, the Children's Hospital at Stanford. She was a member of the Stanford Faculty Women's Club and the Stanford Historical Society.
Locally, she served on the board of the Children's Health Council of Palo Alto (which promotes children's mental and physical health) and was a founding board member of Channing House, a retirement home in Palo Alto.
She was a trustee of the San Francisco Symphony Association and on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was on the board of directors of the Palo Alto Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Mrs. Sterling maintained a lifelong interest in gardening, and was a member of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club and a director and judge emeritus (decorative arrangements) of the Garden Club of America. She made most of her own floral arrangements for university functions, using flowers raised by her husband on the Hoover House grounds and others donated from the gardens of friends, including university trustee Ira Lillick.
She had an active interest in antiques, especially in collecting 18th-century mahogany furniture and English porcelain. Her goal was to keep "the Lou Henry Hoover House looking like an English country house, gay and welcoming," she once told an interviewer.
On Wallace Sterling's 10th anniversary as president, a group of faculty and staff gave Ann Sterling a piece of Worcester porcelain with an egg-shaped note saying, "To a good egg, from some of the hens."
In 1983, the university honored the Sterlings by naming part of the new Governor's Corner undergraduate housing complex as the Sterling Quadrangle.
Mrs. Sterling is survived by her son William of Muir Beach, daughters Susan Monjauze of San Francisco and Judith Morse of Pasadena, and six grandchildren: Alinor and Maury Sterling, Valerie and Thierry Monjauze, and Jamie and Patrick Morse. Also surviving are a sister, Evelyn Crosbie of St. John's, Newfoundland, and brothers Edward W. Shaver of Ancaster, Ontario, and Arthur D. Shaver of Sarasota, Florida. A distant cousin, Mrs. John Devitt of Hamilton, Ontario, also survives. Wallace Sterling died on July 1, 1985.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests gifts to the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium near Tresidder Union on the Stanford campus. Dean of the Chapel Robert C. Gregg will preside. A reception will follow.
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