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Ginny Lear: Fundraiser, event planner, program founder

 
Los Altos resident Ginny Lear has held leadership roles in 17 community organizations during her 50-plus years as a community volunteer. Photo by Veronica Weber.

• Ginny Lear is receiving a Lifetimes of Achievement award on May 19. Read all about the 2019 honorees here.

When Ginny Lear decided to volunteer at her children's schools as a young mother in 1960s Los Altos, she never imagined that it would lead to decades of volunteer work that would play a direct role in creating many city programs and community traditions still recognized today.

Working behind the scenes, Lear helped with the launch of the Rotary Club's Fine Art Show and the founding of the Los Altos Fall Festival. She raised nearly $2 million (a historic amount of money at the time) for the opening of the Los Altos History Museum, co-founded the Los Altos Community Foundation's LEAD program to encourage residents to become better involved in their town, and has held leadership roles in 17 community organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the Los Altos and Palo Alto Rotary clubs, the Los Altos Community Foundation, the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA, the City Parks & Recreation Commission and the Foothill College Foundation Commission, where she helped raise more than $100,000 in one night to support innovative projects.

"It's just something I did. It was a way to be part of the community, and one thing kind of opened up the door to another," said a modest Lear, who appeared to be more comfortable talking about the organizations for which she worked than describing her contributions. "I never had any set plans, and that's sort of how life has gone for me. I don't have plans. I just am available and things come up."

Lear said she started as a "Pink Lady" with the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary, then moved to the PTA, which led to her 10-year role with the parks commission, which led to her involvement with the Community Health Awareness Council, which provides counseling programs to families in Mountain View and Los Altos.

All of the organizations were linked to local schools and children's issues, she explained. There was a natural connection.

After her younger son died, Lear said she shifted her focus.

"I wasn't needed at school anymore, and in that way it was important to change my venue a little bit. That led to me being executive director of the Chamber in Los Altos," she said.

There, she brought her volunteer skills from the education sector to the business community.

Lear said she never had formal training in art, fundraising, event planning or any of the roles she's take on.

"I guess I'm organized. I just take on a job, and I do it, and I get other people to help," Lear said.

Longtime friend Marge Bruno said she's seen firsthand how Lear tackles projects.

"There's not a job that's beneath her. She gets right in there and works on the biggest things and the tiniest, most tedious things. There's none of 'That's for somebody else to do.' Oh no, she's right in there."

Bruno said Lear's perseverance had a significant impact on the passage a Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's bond measure for capital improvements in the mid 1990s, which went to the ballot multiple times before passing.

"She headed (the campaign) three times," Bruno said. "Most people would give up and say, 'Get someone else,' but she didn't."

Lear said she did think about quitting at one point.

"I didn't want to do it again and said I had to think about it," Lear recalled. "My husband said, 'If you don't do it, who should do it?' He was my built-in helper and was very supportive."

Bruno said her friendship with Lear grew from an unusual circumstance in 1986.

"Interestingly, we were both running for the city council," Bruno said. "We had very different views on things, but a number of people were supporting both of us, and so we kept meeting at coffees that were given for both of us, and we just liked each other and agreed that after the election, no matter what, we were going to get together and get to know each other better."

Bruno described Lear as a likable and relatable person who will go out of her way to finish a project.

Even when she was sick with an pneumonia during the height of planning the high-profile 50th anniversary party for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District's Celebrity Forum Speakers Series, she continued to work from home.

"That's how she is, and that goes a long way in getting people on board," Bruno said. "She's had an enormous impact on the community. She's the one people think of when they want to get something done. They pick up the phone and call her."

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