Former Palo Alto mayor Alan Henderson dies at 89


Alan Henderson, former Palo Alto mayor, businessman and environmental advocate, died on Sept. 13 from complications related to a stroke at The Sequoias Portola Valley, his daughter Nancy Henderson Peterson told the Weekly. He was 89.

As a moderate city councilman and member of numerous boards in Palo Alto, Henderson fought for environmental and social causes, including open space preservation, restrictions on new development, bike lane implementation and affordable child care. Over the years his work garnered him the city's top honors, including a Tall Tree Award and an Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement award.

Paul Alan Henderson, known as Alan, was born on June 20, 1925, in San Francisco. Until age 6 he lived in Burlingame with his parents and older brother, Richard. The Depression forced the family to move to Sacramento, where his father could work with his grandfather at Henderson's Delicatessen.

He graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento in 1943 and then enrolled at Stanford University. A year later he was drafted by the U.S. Army to fight in the Pacific Theater of WWII. He served at Okinawa in 1945 and then later General MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters in 1946. In Tokyo, he volunteered at a Methodist orphanage and a school and sang in several performances with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.

After returning to the U.S., he resumed his studies at Stanford, where he was also a competitive runner and high jumper with the track team. In 1949, he graduated from Stanford with a bachelor's degree in economics.

Soon after, he met Patricia "Pat" Rom through a family friend, and the two married in December 1950. They had two children, Nancy and Wayne, and the family settled in Redwood City while he worked as a systems analyst with the California Packing Company for the Del Monte brand in San Francisco, beginning in 1950. In 1955, the family moved to Palo Alto so that their children could enjoy the local schools and the community Alan first became acquainted with while at Stanford.

In 1956, he took a new job as assistant comptroller with Sunset Magazine & Books in Menlo Park, and in 1965, he helped a colleague launch George Pfeiffer and Associates, a company which published American West magazine, among other publications. In 1968, Henderson entered a role as a business manager for the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a think tank on Stanford campus where he worked until his retirement in 1992.

He got his start in local politics when his wife Pat gathered enough signatures to submit his name for city council as part of a slate organized by the Association for a Balanced Community in 1971. His successful campaign centered on his opposition to residential development in the Palo Alto foothills and high-rise development along University Avenue, in addition to his extensive business and financial experience.

He sat on the Palo Alto City Council from 1971 to 1975 and 1977 to 1981 and served as mayor from 1979 to 1981 and twice as vice mayor. As a moderate, he favored controlling the city's growth but was still willing to work with the other side.

Current City Council member Larry Klein, who served briefly in 1981 with Henderson, mayor at the time, said he thought that Henderson's "fair-mindedness" moved the council away from the divisive years of the early 1970s.

"Alan was a person who really could reach out and talk to everybody on the council," Klein said.

Among many initiatives he aided as a councilman, he contributed particularly to the rezoning of Stanford's Coyote Hill property and the Palo Alto Baylands to open space, the creation of bike lanes throughout the city, the Open Space Ordinance limiting development in the foothills, a city-subsidized child care program (California's first), a revised budget format and Palo Alto's 50-foot height limit.

In the years after his city council terms, he remained thoroughly engaged with community issues, serving as chairman of the Regional Water Quality Control Board from 1982 to 1983 and president of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation Board of Directors from 1986 to 1989.

He was also on the boards of the Palo Alto Civic League, Peninsula Conservation Center, Palo Alto Community Child Care, the Palo Alto YMCA and Avenidas, for which he served 12 years, two as president. He also was a member of the Palo Alto Weekly Board of Contributors, writing occasional guest opinions for the newspaper.

"He was very proud of his involvement in the community," said Sharon Hofstedt, a friend and fellow Avenidas board member who appreciated his sympathetic nature. "(He) really cared about down-and-outers, if you would. He really cared about people who had less than he did."

For his myriad efforts in Palo Alto, he was chosen as Palo Alto Citizen of the Year by the Palo Alto Civic League in 1974, received a Tall Tree Award from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce in 1982 and a YMCA Red Triangle Award in 1991, and was honored with an Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement award in 1999. The City of Palo Alto also dedicated a bench to him at the Baylands Nature Preserve.

Alan and Pat divorced in 1977, after which he reconnected with an old acquaintance from Sacramento, Myrene Depew. They married a year later. Together they traveled around the globe and participated in many political and social activities for decades, before Myrene died in 2001. In 2010, Alan moved from Palo Alto to the Sequoias Portola Valley retirement community.

An avid fan of Stanford sports throughout his life, he helped as a spotter at football games and an assistant announcer at men's basketball games. He attended many home football games and was a longtime season ticket holder for men's and women's basketball.

He is survived by two children, Nancy Henderson (Ivars) Peterson of Washington, D.C., and Wayne Alan Henderson of San Diego; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren -- as well as four step-children, 11 step-grandchildren and a step-great-grandchild. He is also survived by his first wife, Patricia Khanati of San Diego, with whom he remained friends after their divorce.

A memorial service will be held on Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Peninsula Open Space Trust or Pathways Hospice, 585 N. Mary Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94085.

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1 person likes this
Posted by
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm

History colors my lens, but I recall those days when Mayor Henderson served the city as our Camelot days. His leadership with the other colleagues formed an incredible time when progressive environmental initiatives moved forward. My own standing was as a youngster with budding ideas about how recycling could evolve, and I was at Council and inspired by the discussion. So I trust Mayor Henderson will join our great Council in the sky. My condolences to the family.

1 person likes this
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Among Alan's many contributions, one the article didn't mention was the PAUSD-appointed "tax advisory" committee that he and I co-chaired in 1987. This was in the era of declining enrollment, and school site sales were beginning to erode the District's land assets.

We knew that an alternate source of revenue was needed, and the PAUSD appointed the two of us (Alan as a respected former mayor and me as recent PTA Council president) to lead a committee to evaluate various options. Ultimately, our committee made the recommendation to work with the City of PA to propose the utility tax that would provide funds for the city to lease playing fields from the PAUSD (and repair city sidewalks and a few other things). Voters approved the idea in that fall's election, and the funds helped the PAUSD through some lean years until rising property tax revenues evened things out.

It was a great pleasure to work with Alan during those six months. He brought in a community-wide, "non-parent" perspective and helped the committee reach a well-balanced recommendation. This work was just another example of his long-time and exemplary service to our community.

With appreciation and sympathy to his family,

Debbie Mytels

1 person likes this
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Alan, also, was a strong advocate for the city drug rehabilitation programs called the "Collective" in the seventies. Many young Palo Altans championed the program and served as advisers and Board Members. Alan was a champion of youth involvement in city affairs. He was a gentle giant who served this city with honor. He will be missed at the basketball games he faithfully supported.
With love and peace to Alan and his extensive family,
Joel Davidson

1 person likes this
Posted by Cathy
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm

I had the pleasure of caring for Alan in his last days and the little amount of time I spent with him were memorable ones. Rest in Peace my ex Mayor,

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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