Sand Hill Road developer Thomas Ford dies

Publication Date: Wednesday Dec 2, 1998

COMMUNITY: Sand Hill Road developer Thomas Ford dies

Portola Valley resident, former Stanford trustee had many facets

by Loren Stein

Real estate developer and philanthropist Thomas Ford, the Portola Valley resident who was a driving force in making Sand Hill Road an epicenter of venture capital, died unexpectedly of a heart attack early Monday. He was 77. Ford, the managing partner of Ford Land Co. and a former trustee of Stanford University, became ill at his Portola Valley home Sunday night and was pronounced dead at 12:28 a.m. Monday at Stanford Hospital.

"My father was very modest, but he was actually quite a visionary," said his son Dave Ford, a San Francisco free-lance writer, on Monday. "He landed in the center of what became ground zero of venture capital and later Silicon Valley start-ups.

"My dad's part in that was to create the real estate where those venture capital companies are based."

The Ford Land Co., which Ford created in 1964, is a real estate investment firm that develops and operates office and research buildings on the Peninsula, including 3000 Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, known internationally as the home of venture capital.

Dave Ford said his father seemed to be in very good health and that the heart attack struck without warning. He said he had visited his father the previous weekend at his home and that he was in good spirits.

Thomas Ford had a profound impact on his community. He was exceptionally multifaceted: As a businessman, he was a founding father of Silicon Valley; as the creator of the Thomas and Susan Ford Foundation, he was one of the area's leading philanthropists; and as a prominent moderate Republican and founding chairman of the Lincoln Club, he was a force in regional politics.

"Tom was such a fine human being. He was a believer in people and in the quality of life on the Peninsula," said Audrey Rust, executive director of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which Ford co-founded in 1977.

"He made it possible to attract others to the mission, and forced us to take risks and move forward," she said. "He really made the difference."

Ford was born on March 23, 1921, in Youngstown, Ohio. "My father brought to California Midwest verities," said Dave Ford. "These included giving back to the community. He drummed it into us, and believed it fully to the end of his life: the obligation to continually improve your community, family, friendships and all relationships."

Ford graduated from Yale with bachelor's degrees in economics and industrial engineering in 1942. After serving in the South Pacific as a Navy officer during World War II, he received a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1949. In 1954, he married Joan Stuart Butler, with whom he later had four children.

In 1955, the couple moved to Palo Alto, and in 1958 they settled in Portola Valley, where they built a home Ford lived in the rest of his life.

Before founding his own business, Ford was legal counsel for the Stanford University business office and director of land development for 10 years. While there, he helped guide the inception and expansion of Stanford Research Park. The $10 million, 67,000-square-foot Ford Center for Sports and Recreation, the first major space for indoor athletics built at Stanford since the 1970s, was dedicated in his honor in 1989.

When introduced at the center's dedication ceremony, Ford reportedly said, "This is the first time in my life I've ever had applause from so many people I've put an arm on."

A member of the Stanford athletic board, Ford was elected to the Stanford University board of trustees in 1980. He served as vice president of the board from 1988 until his term ended in 1990. He then served on the advisory boards of Stanford's Center for Economic Policy Research and Haas Center for Public Service.

In 1990, Ford and his wife divorced. Seven years ago, he married his second wife, Susan Ford, with whom he had a son, Thomas Jr., who is now 5 years old.

Dave Ford recalls one rainy day that his father drove the entire family to a patch of bare land after attending church. "He said, 'Kids, this is where it'll be!' It turned out to be the site for 3000 Sand Hill Road." Added Ford, "You couldn't help but be swept up in his enthusiasm."

Thomas Ford liked to be involved, said his son. "Whenever you came to him with a problem or concern, he would say, "What can I do?'"

Thomas Ford was a trustee of Stanford's Children's Hospital and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, and also served as president of the Santa Clara County United Fund and chairman of the Portola Valley Planning Commission. In 1989, he received the Koshland Award from Peninsula Community Foundation for outstanding involvement in community service.

He is survived by his wife, Susan; a daughter, Anne Latcham-Ford of Oxford, England; four sons, Rich Ford of Corvallis, Ore., Chris Ford of Los Angeles, Dave Ford and Thomas Ford Jr.; and five grandchildren.

Services have not yet been scheduled. 

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