Robert R. Augsburger dies Dec. 31 at 83

Former Stanford vice president and open-space leader dies of brain tumor

Robert R. "Bob" Augsburger, a former vice president of Stanford University and the first executive director of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), died Dec. 31 at his Portola Valley home of a brain tumor. He was 83.

Augsburger, a lawyer and businessman in his early life, brought private-sector thinking and sound financial practices to nonprofit management.

"Bob used to say that one should re-pot oneself every five years. This he did quite successfully, enriching his own and other people's lives. He was unafraid to take a contrary view, did so frequently, and was usually proved to be right," Rosemary McAndrews, a colleague at Stanford and long-time friend, said of Augsburger.

Augsburger was raised in Canton, Ohio, graduated from Purdue University and Case Western Reserve University Law School. He worked for the Glidden Company in Cleveland as director of financial relations and manager of corporate pension funds.

In 1963 he became vice president for the investment firm of Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette in New York. He was instrumental in taking DLJ public in 1970, making it the first publicly traded investment firm in the United States.

Augsburger took a year off to explore his next career move. Serving as deacon at the First Presbyterian Church in Madison, New Jersey, he considered becoming a minister or opening "Bob's Bar" where he could practice lay ministry as a bartender. He became interested in land use, serving as adviser to the planned "New Town" community of Columbia, Md.

In 1971, Augsburger entered into his longstanding relationship with Stanford as vice president of business and finance. He had to walk the line between student dissent, conservative stakeholders and faculty members that objected to his private-sector views.

Augsburger supervised Stanford's significant real estate holdings. In 1972 and 1973, he worked with McAndrews to renovate and expand Stanford Shopping Center, a major income source for the university -- transforming it into one of the nation's most upscale shopping destinations.

As a Portola Valley resident, Augsburger developed an appreciation for nearby open spaces, including Stanford lands such as "the Dish" and Webb Ranch. His vision of land use, following the Columbia "New Town" model, was to condense development in quasi-urban centers to preserve open space elsewhere.

This led him to join Ward Paine in 1977 in founding POST, a nonprofit organization that links landowners, donors and government agencies -- working closely with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD).

As POST's first executive director, Augsburger established priority lists for land acquisition . He put POST on the map with two important projects, including Windy Hill, where "Bob's Bench" (his preference rather than his full name) provides a place for hiker's to rest and take in the views.

"Bob brought to POST a passion for conservation, a knowledge of his community, a deep network of friends and colleagues, and an entrepreneurial spirit, all of which set up the organization for long-term success," Audrey Rust, POST's current executive director, said of Augsburger's contributions. "POST and I have benefitted greatly from Bob's vision and 'get it done' attitude."

"As we look back at the early days of POST, I realize how far ahead of his time Bob was in looking to preserve land, especially in the Bay Area," Sue Crane, a former POST board member and co-founder of Ridge Vineyards, said.

In 1982, Augsburger was instrumental in creation of the Land Trust Exchange, a national organization of private land trusts now known as the Land Trust Alliance, representing 1,700 land trusts that have protected more than 37 million acres.

Ausgburger also was active in other non-profit organizations, serving as a trustee of Hidden Villa, an educational organization in Los Altos Hills, and as President of the Children's Health Council board. An opera and theatre enthusiast, he served as senior adviser for National Arts Stabilization, an arts -management group to help art organizations build a strategic foundation for funding.

In recent years, Augsburger served as a lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB), teaching courses in nonprofit management.

"Bob's work at the GSB, following his tenure at POST, gave him a chance to share all he had learned about non-profit management with thousands of students who are 'out there doing it,'" according to Christy Holloway, long-time POST board member and wife of Stanford GSB professor Chuck Holloway. "What a grand legacy for a person who gave so much of himself to our community with devotion and twinkle in his eye."

A former student of 20 years ago, Morgan Dudley, recalls, "While most of the courses at the GSB dealt with optimizing profits, Bob's classes operated on a deeper, human level: confronting ethical dilemmas, making difficult choices with limited resources, and determining how to serve society and the common good.

His ultimate lesson was that any one of us has the ability to contribute to society, to help others in need, and to make the world a better place."

In retirement, Augsburger's served as an officer of the Stanford Historical Society -- his pet project was the history of the Stanford endowment fund. Prior to his death, he was collecting material on the important financial developments that have made education possible at Stanford and had hoped to write a book on the subject. He also served on the advisory board of the Stanford GSB Oral History Program.

In his final home at the Sequoias retirement community in Portola Valley -- adjacent to the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve -- he worked to develop onsite assisted living and memory facilities for Sequoias residents.

In his one-year term as president of the Residents' Council, Augsburger was responsible for a major overhaul and reinvigoration of the Sequoias committee system. He played on the lawn-bowling team and was a member of the Tuesday night poker group, and was known for his outlandish costumes at the annual Sequoias Halloween party.

Augsburger is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jean Ann Augsburger; sons David and John; daughter Jane McLaughlin; and four grandchildren, Patrick, Ian, Carolyne and Sabina.

A memorial service is pending.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brian Steen
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 4, 2010 at 10:50 am

Bob's conservation work spread much further than POST. Bob had a great affinity for helping young conservation professionals in CA and nationally. He inspired me in my conservation work with the Big Sur Land Trust and later with the Sempervirens Fund.. We'll miss him greatly.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by carol jansen
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Nice article, Jay. I only met Augsburger once, but was impressed with his integrity and committment to issues he believed in.

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