News

Perpetual volunteer Ray Bacchetti dies at 81

Palo Alto resident's work emphasized civic engagement, 'the common good'

For Ray Bacchetti, civic engagement wasn't a lofty ideal so much as a way of life.

Bacchetti, a devoted educator, activist and community volunteer, died Sunday, May 10, at the age of 81 after a battle with cancer. He left behind a record of public service and volunteering that is nearly unrivaled in Palo Alto, including a five-year stint on the school board, an eight-year term on the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees and six years on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission.

For Bacchetti, there were always board meetings to attend, task forces to chair and committees to join, including the blue-ribbon committee that surveyed the city's infrastructure needs, the citizen task force that considered the need for a new police building, the stakeholders group that explored the future use of Cubberley Community Center and an oversight committee for the school district's facilities bond. He spent nine years volunteering in the Palo Alto Police Department, helped head Project Safety Net and served as a Track Watch volunteer.

Police Chief Dennis Burns noted that Bacchetti and fellow volunteer George Browning were "frequently described as the hardest-working employees of the Police Department," where they worked twice a week. Bacchetti, he said, often took the time to meet the department's younger officers and explain to them what the community wants and needs and how it can be served better.

"He is a man of tremendous wisdom, humor and compassion, and we're all better because of Ray Bacchetti," Burns said.

Born on Jan. 9, 1934, in New Jersey, Bacchetti developed an early interest in theater during trips with his great uncle, a playwright, to productions on Broadway. After graduating from Westwood High School, he entered Rutgers University, where as an undergraduate he met his future wife, Carol, whom he married in 1956.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1956 and a master's degree in education in 1959. His studies introduced him to educational philosopher John Dewey and questions of democracy and the common good that he said fascinated him for the rest of his life.

After teaching briefly in New Jersey, he continued his studies in a doctoral program at Stanford University, focusing on the philosophy of education and higher education, which he completed in 1968. In addition to teaching in Palo Alto for a year, he worked at Stanford for 33 years, ultimately retiring as vice president of planning and management. Bacchetti was also a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and an education-program officer at the Hewlett Foundation.

Retirement did nothing to slow him down. As a citizen volunteer, he co-founded the group Palo Altans for Government Effectiveness, served on the board at Channing House and was a leading voice for including "civic engagement" as a City Council priority.

At a March 16 recognition ceremony for Bacchetti, Councilman Pat Burt recalled Bacchetti's constant commitment to pursuing "the common good."

"While not everyone's notion of what that means is identical, it's a really important reminder that we just continue to reflect on our actions, not only as officials but as a community, to think about our common good," Burt said.

Bacchetti's volunteering efforts won him plenty of accolades, including the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement Award in 2009 and a Tall Tree Award in 2013 in the category of "outstanding citizen." Yet Bacchetti never sought recognition, and, as his friends have recalled, most of his efforts to improve his community took place out of the public eye.

Councilman Marc Berman remembered the time in 2012 when Berman had made plans to meet then-Mayor Yiaway Yeh near the train tracks, which citizen volunteers patrolled to ward off suicide attempts. At around 10 p.m., Berman said, he arrived at the East Meadow Road rail crossing where instead of Yeh he saw a man in a hat whom he instantly recognized as Bacchetti.

"I said, 'Ray, what are you doing here?' And he said, 'This is my 84th time doing Track Watch. What are you doing here?'" Berman said.

"There are countless things he did for the community that were unseen by the rest of us," said Berman, who served with Bacchetti on the infrastructure committee. "He's an incredible role model to the rest of us, and I'm very thankful for all the work he's done for Palo Alto."

His lifelong love of theater and activism came together in his service on the board for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and his support for local theater groups like TheatreWorks and the Pear Avenue Theatre. While his taste was eclectic, he particularly enjoyed plays with "meaty subject matters" and appreciated the group effort that went into theatrical productions, Carol Bacchetti said.

"It's a very collaborative (process), and I think that's something he was always interested in," she said.

In a 2009 video interview, Bacchetti talked about some of his passions, mentioning public education, civic engagement, the theater, police work and the issue of "growing older," or as Bacchetti termed it, "older and growing." In the final years of his life, he was as committed to promoting student safety and well-being as he was to engaging residents who are in their "third and final stage of life," as he called it in the interview.

"We're still trying to figure out how to get involved in it, how to make it meaningful, how to make the best use of people who are no longer working in their careers but still have a great deal to give to the society," Bacchetti said.

Yet his efforts and interests transcended generational divides. As someone who devoted decades of his life to education and who always enjoyed working with young people, he found solace in last days watching children from Abilities United during their swimming lessons at the Channing House pool, his wife said. After battling skin cancer for several months, he died Sunday at Channing House.

In addition to Carol Bacchetti, he is survived by his brother, J. Thomas (Liz) Bacchetti of Oakland; three children, Peter (Anne Marie Siu-Yuan) Bacchetti of Santa Rosa, Joanne (Phil) Taylor of Menlo Park and Paul Bacchetti of Mountain View; and three grandchildren, Emily, Ben and Jesse Taylor.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date. Memorial donations can be made to Youth Community Service, TheatreWorks or InnVision Shelter Network.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Very sad news. Ray was a gentleman. He'll be greatly missed.


2 people like this
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Very sad news. Ray was a gentleman. He'll be greatly missed by many.


2 people like this
Posted by Marielena
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm

I had the honor to spend nights at the train tracks when he volunteered to watch for our youth's social and emotional health. He came to the community meetings I invited him that had something to do with improving our students social and emotional health. He would sometimes be there with his big umbrella. The rain did not stopped him from coming to watch the tracks on Sundays. He was great. I felt bad that we have lost so many students in this district, but I am thankful for meeting so many nice people who cared about our children while we watched the train track. Bachetti was one of them. The doors of haven are open for you, and you might find out what really drove our students to the edge. Helcome to heaven! Rest in Peace!


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 11, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ray was the ultimate gentleman, scholar and, most important, citizen.

He will be deeply missed but his impact on our community will last forever.


4 people like this
Posted by Marielena
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

So sad to hear the news. I had the honor to worked with him when he and I volunteered at the train tracks. He signed up for Sundays, and he was always there even when it rained. He will take his big umbrella. I really admired his dedication to our young students. He was a person who cared and did something about it. He will be missed a lot in our community, for now I am sure that the doors of heaven are wide open for him, perhaps he will now find out what really drove our young students to the edge to take their own life. Rest in Peace.


5 people like this
Posted by miriam rosenthal
a resident of Woodside
on May 11, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Ray was always an informed and intelligent addition the Foothill DeAnza Board of Trustees. Grateful for his thoughtful commitment to the colleges


5 people like this
Posted by Joan and Bob Jack
a resident of University South
on May 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm

We consider it an honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know Ray (and Carol) in our past six years at Channing House. We were and are in awe of him.


6 people like this
Posted by Emile Chartier
a resident of Woodside
on May 11, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I met Ray several times at Stanford in the mid-1970s. He gave me the following advice from the French thinker Emile Chartier which became one of my personal mantras:

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have."


4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on May 11, 2015 at 9:01 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Ray was a wonderful model for us all. His dedication to our schools, our city and his beloved TheaterWorks are some of his many volunteer contributions to my generation and those to come.

Ray and his tireless efforts for us all will be missed.

He was a rare human being.


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Schwqaar
a resident of Professorville
on May 11, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Ray was a resident at Channing House for more than 10 years, where he was wonderful example of a civic volunteer. He inspired the rest of use to become active in our retirement. He became the first resident to be appointed to the Channing House Board of Trustees, where he served with distinction. He was in his third three-year term when he died, leaving behind a string of accomplishments and great respect for his leadership and his warm and caring style. I'll miss his twinkle and smile.

Bob Schwaar, fellow-resident.


3 people like this
Posted by Le Levy
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Ray was a warm and wise human being. His passing is a great loss to our community.


5 people like this
Posted by winter
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2015 at 10:30 am

Ray expressed caring about his community through good works and strong advocay. He set a good example for us all. As the song says, "... what a man...what a mighty good man."
Thank you Ray - you did good.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris Richardson
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2015 at 10:40 am

Ray was an amazing man and I'm glad I got to know him, even a little, over the last few years. His selflessness, compassion, and fearless volunteerism with Downtown Streets Team and Peninsula Healthcare Connection will continue to inspire. We'll miss you Ray.


5 people like this
Posted by Carol Muller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2015 at 10:41 am

When I was a doctoral student at Stanford's School of Education in the early 1980s, Ray Bacchetti was legendary. This article focuses on the community service he contributed to Palo Alto in his later years, but as a senior administrator at Stanford for decades, he led thoughtfully, with reason, empathy, compassion, transparency, clarity, and a strong ethos tied to the purpose of a great institution of higher education on its way to even greater heights. He was renowned as a mentor of many, and through his articulation of tacit knowledge, helped others see the complexity of problems and opportunities, as well as ways to address them. Stanford is a stronger institution for all the clear thinking he brought to its internal management processes. Rest easy, Ray, you have left strong legacies within the communities you served so well -- you made the world a better place. Sympathies to your family and others who survive you.


2 people like this
Posted by Jeff Rensch
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2015 at 11:27 am

I will never forget Ray's tireless commitment to the good of the whole community. We served together at the Community Working Group. Ray mentored a guy recovering from homelessness, chaired CWG's Finance committee, served as Board president for the Opportunity Center's clinic, and this was all just in the last year or so! Meanwhile he was on Human Relations Committee and many other orgs. I didn't even know about his wonderful work guarding the tracks... but I am not surprised. He would not want us to be sorrowful at this moment but to follow his own example of selfless service. A great man.


Like this comment
Posted by Carolyn Tucher
a resident of University South
on May 12, 2015 at 12:18 pm

It was a privilege to serve on the School Board with Ray. His analysis of issues was sharp and focused. Whatever our own positions, we all benefitted from his clarity and insights. He ran a tight meeting and kept his own comments concise. Having taught a class of elementary kids himself, Ray had high regard for the district’s teachers and staff. He was passionate about engaging all students and providing opportunities for their growth. For all Ray's intelligence, it’s the qualities of his heart which I will remember most.


2 people like this
Posted by Carolyn Tucher
a resident of University South
on May 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm


It was a privilege to serve on the School Board with Ray. His analysis of issues was sharp and focused. Whatever our own positions, we all benefitted from his clarity and insights. He ran a tight meeting and kept his own comments concise. Ray was passionate about providing opportunities for success for all students. Having spent a year as an elementary school teacher, he had high regard for the district’s teachers and staff. For all his intelligence, it’s the qualities of Ray’s heart that I will remember most.


2 people like this
Posted by Jean Wilcox
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 12, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Ray will be sadly missed, I know if George Browning was still alive he would want me to send Carol and the Baccetti family our most sincere condolences.

These two elderly gentlemen enjoyed each others company as they helped the Police Department with some of the more menial jobs which would otherwise have taken up Officer's time like, collecting the food for the police dogs or cleaning out the police garage, even setting up the rat traps!!!

My sincere sympathy to Carol and the Bacchetti family, Ray will be sadly missed.




Like this comment
Posted by Kristen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Ray was such a wonderful man. Kind, caring, intelligent, interesting, and always thinking about the common good. I feel so fortunate to have been able to know him. He will be dearly missed.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2015 at 4:12 pm

I didn't know him but had read about him in the newspaper from time to time. He sounds like he was a wonderful man in this community. So sorry for your loss.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on May 12, 2015 at 10:33 pm

Ray Bacchetti also provided wise counsel to the Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Initiative, hosting the numerous meetings at Channing House where the late George Browning and others worked hard to identify the needs for the neighborhoods and eventually to write policies and procedures which have been implemented in many neighborhoods throughout Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim Phillips
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 13, 2015 at 7:29 am

Ray was a huge asset to the Palo Alto area. His work with Kay Philips and the Mid-Peninsula YWCA on a series of conferences in the early '90s called "A Commitment to Diversity" is one of his many "out of the public eye" activities.


Like this comment
Posted by Leannah hunt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Ray was a scholar outstanding volunteer compassionate articulate gracious individual. His many efforts to improve our society and community will forever endear him to the mid peninsula area. My sincere condolences to his wife carol and his family. I will miss his wonderful letters and warm personality. Leannah hunt


1 person likes this
Posted by Penny Ellson
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 18, 2015 at 2:21 am

Ray was a kind and very generous man. He did a lot of good through his thoughtful volunteer service. He will be greatly missed. Sincere condolences to his family and many friends.


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