Leonard Ely, Palo Alto philanthropist, dies at 87 | May 6, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - May 6, 2011

Leonard Ely, Palo Alto philanthropist, dies at 87

A memorial service will be held May 26 at Stanford Memorial Church for Palo Alto businessman and philanthropist Leonard Ely, who died April 29. He was 87.

Ely, a retired auto dealer and the grandson of Stanford University's third president, with deep roots in the community, devoted much of his later life to philanthropy.

His largesse was primarily focused on local organizations and on Stanford University, where he and his wife, Shirley, endowed a professorship.

He was a key leader in nurturing what is now the $1.8 billion Silicon Valley Community Foundation and was involved in foundation affairs until the day before he died.

Born in Palo Alto in 1923, Ely was the grandson of Ray Lyman Wilbur, Stanford's president from 1916 to 1943.

"Dad grew up in Palo Alto at a unique time and he loved it and continued to love it, so we were all lucky," his daughter, Maggie Pringle, said.

Ely graduated from Palo Alto High School, and earned an undergraduate degree in economics and an MBA from Stanford, where he was president of the Business School Student Association.

He was an Air Force pilot in World War II, serving in the South Pacific.

He started an auto dealership in Palo Alto in 1954, selling Chryslers, Plymouths and Chevrolets. The businesses expanded and thrived for three decades.

Later, he founded the Atherton Lease Co. as well as two general partnerships to buy parcels of land for resale and development. In the early 1980s, he started another general partnership to acquire and operate the Stanford Terrace Inn.

Ely served on the boards of more than 30 local organizations and volunteered for even more. They included the Gamble Garden Center, Castilleja School, Lytton Gardens, YMCA, Ecumenical Hunger Program, Red Cross and the Boy Scouts.

He told people that William Hewlett, the late co-founder of HP, was his philanthropic role model.

"We make a living out of what we earn and a life out of what we do," Ely said in a 2006 speech before hundreds of foundation supporters at the San Jose Fairmont.

The foundation began with $55,000 left over from the Santa Clara County War Chest fund from World War II and by 1990 had grown to about $10 million in assets. Sixteen years later, it has assets of $919 million.

It merged with the Peninsula Community Foundation of San Mateo in 2006.

Ely spent the last few years "helping the community, promoting philanthropy and taking care of his family," his son, Leonard III, said.

Ely did not travel much after suffering a bad fall six years ago, his son said. However, he was able to go to Chicago last year for his granddaughter's graduation from Northwestern University Law School.

"Leonard Ely embodied the true spirit of giving," Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Emmett D. Carson said Friday.

"He was a visionary who understood our larger region and the power of collective philanthropy. He made the community foundation, our region and countless nonprofit institutions stronger."

Ely was one of the Palo Alto Weekly's original shareholders and served on the company's board of directors for almost 30 years until retiring last year.

"Leonard was the most generous, supportive and unassuming person one could ever hope to know or work with," said Weekly publisher Bill Johnson. "His passion for philanthropy was both inspiring and contagious, and was an important reason why the Weekly has so strongly supported the work of nonprofits in the community."

Ely is survived by his wife of 63 years, Shirley; his son Leonard III, daughter-in-law Mary and their son David; and his daughter, Maggie Pringle and her chlidren Abby, David and Will. He is also survived by his twin sister, Mrs. George Hart, of Ross, and many nieces and nephews.

The May 26 memorial service will be at 4 p.m. at Stanford. Memorial contributions may be made to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 2440 West El Camino Real, Suite 300, Mountain View, 94040, or to a charity of the donor's choice.


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here