Judy and George Marcus, co-owners of Kokkari Restaurant in San Francisco and Evvia in Palo Alto, are known for their decades of civic and philanthropic work, which has impacted everything from health and education to the arts. They have volunteered at various organizations together and independently over the past five decades. Together, the Los Altos Hills duo established the International Center for the Arts at San Francisco State University and contributed $25 million — the largest donation to the university ever — to establish the George and Judy Marcus Hall for the Liberal and Creative Arts and the new home for the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts program in 2018.
George founded Marcus & Millichap, established in Palo Alto and now one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world. He sits on the board of directors of Millennium Challenge Corporation, UCSF Foundation, CSU Foundation and Georgetown School for Foreign Service and is an emeritus board member of the Library of Congress Trust Fund and Corporation of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He is the regent emeritus of the University of California and a former California State University Trustee.
Judy, who supported the family while George was launching his business, has dedicated many years to community service, contributing her time and talents to such organizations as Humane Society of Silicon Valley, Cristo Rey San Jose, the Montalvo Arts Center, Breast Cancer Connections, Avenidas and Community Services Agency in Mountain View, where she served as president. Their home has been the site of countless fundraising events for nonprofit organizations, as well as for U.S. presidential and other political candidates. She graduated from San Francisco State with a bachelor's degree in physical education.
The Weekly spoke to George and Judy about their volunteer work and the impact it's had on their lives and the community in which they live. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
PAW: Thinking back, what inspired you to first get involved in volunteering and philanthropy?
Judy: Growing up, I think my family was always involved with doing something — whether it was during the holidays or other times — reaching out to groups that needed extra help. I was a Girl Scout. We didn't have very much ourselves, but it was always important to give.
George: I think it starts if you're involved in religion. Religious organizations are organizations that get you to think a little about philanthropy and caring about anybody in need. I'm Greek Orthodox. The Orthodox religion is very large and I served on the board of a (humanitarian aid) organization called International Orthodox Christian Charities. We would go abroad and we would try to help people through all these crisis situations, no matter what their ethnic background or religious traditions. That was a very fulfilling thing for me.
PAW: Through philanthropy efforts and hands-on volunteer work, you have stepped up to make the community that you call home a better place for all. What makes this area so special to you?
Judy: George and I came to this area because of its beauty and many amenities. Our community has blossomed into a place for creativity and innovation that is changing things all over the world. This could almost compare to the Golden Age of Greece.
PAW: What kind of impact do you feel your volunteer work has had on the community?
Judy: I think the best thing that can happen with a nonprofit is to go out of business. We sometimes continue programs that have outlived their usefulness. Things are changing in different communities, and we need to adjust with the change. What was good for the community 30 years ago may not be appropriate today. We did this with Families in Transition (an assistance program for immigrants and their families), which was in East Palo Alto before Ikea was to be built in 2003. (Through the) program, we started a housecleaning co-op, had a few women learn to drive, some did the cleaning and some watched the children. All the money was split evenly, and eventually, the women went on and developed their own business. They were able to become empowered. Many moved away when the community became more gentrified. The money we had left in the organization was divided between the city's Ecumenical Hunger Program and Eastside Prep.
PAW: What's been the most rewarding part about your volunteer work?
George: Trying to do good and seeing a difference you can make in different organizations.
Judy: When I see life changes, whether it is economic or educational, I know that the time spent was worthwhile. It's nice to support a variety of things — it's very fun to me — rather than just one area.
PAW: What advice do you have for others looking to volunteer or make a difference in their community?
George: When you volunteer, you need to be effective and make sure you have goals. Regardless of what kind of charity it is, you really have to make headway. Half of the goals are usually about raising money. You have to have people who are trained, you have to have financial capabilities, and it all has to be monitored to track your results. I'm a businessman, so I think in those terms all the time.
PAW: While owning restaurants, operating a mega real estate firm, raising a family, launching nonprofits and volunteering, how have you managed to successfully balance it all?
Judy: We can balance what we do because we prioritize, focus and invest the time. We work on things separately, but we are a team.
Read more stories on this year's Lifetimes of Achievement honorees: