I first got to know Warren when I was a business writer at The Chronicle in the ’80s. I used to pad to One Maritime Plaza from 5th and Mission Streets (we wore suits and ties) to meet with Warren at his office overlooking the Bay Bridge. His investment firm Hellman & Friedman took Levis private in 1985, at that time the largest-ever buyout of a publicly held U.S. firm.
Though a financier, Warren was passionate about the Sierra and the foothills — being active in Sugar Bowl and the Tevis Cup, Placer County’s long-distance horse race.
Hellman was a Republican in a heavily Democratic city and came to epitomize what I consider a moderate Republican. Earlier this year, Hellman spearheaded a plan for city workers to put a larger portion of their salaries into the pension fund.
He also was a philanthropist and bluegrass enthusiast. “He funded the San Francisco Free Clinic and helped set up an endowment to support aquatic sports at UC Berkeley, where he played water polo as a student,” as the Chronicle wrote.
Warren and I got to know each other well, and he gave me some major “scoops” at the newspaper. He was an approachable, candid source. There was lots of corporate M&A action in S.F. then. Do you remember companies such as Crown Zellerbach?
Looking out his window, we also used to talk about our shared passion for the Sierra and Lake Tahoe — joking about easing the long drive to the mountains with a sea plane that took off from San Francisco Bay around 6 p.m., flew across the Donner Pass, and landed right in the Lake on slender pontoons. (It never happened, though, at least for me).
In his 70s, worried about dwindling local news coverage in the Internet age, Hellman helped form the Bay Citizen online journalism site. “I was appalled by how much the Chronicle has shrunk, how thin the Examiner is, and how little coverage there is for local news,” he told the Associated Press in 2009. “I couldn’t help but believe that local politics will be affected. We will have even weaker candidates than we have now with less local coverage, and it seemed to me there was something we could do about it.”
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, the Bay Citizen and the San Francisco School Alliance. The family also requests a donation of blood or platelets to a local blood bank.
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