Remembering Bill Hewlett

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 24, 2001

MEMORIAL: Remembering Bill Hewlett

More than a thousand attend memorial service

by Jennifer Deitz Berry

Friends, family and admirers of Bill Hewlett streamed by the hundreds into Stanford Memorial Church last Saturday to say goodbye to the Silicon Valley pioneer. The co-founder and former president of Hewlett-Packard Co. was remembered for his philanthropy, curiosity, love of nature and music, good humor and stubborn streak--characteristics that stood out as much as his role in launching two multibillion-dollar, multinational high-tech corporations.

The hour-and-a-half memorial was simple and dignified, heartfelt and --at moments--lighthearted. As the crowd of approximately 1,200 arrived, classical organ music echoed off the high ceilings and stained-glass windows. There were no lavish decorations--just a row of tall, thin candles lit in the recesses along the back wall of the church, and some flower bouquets that were delivered in remembrance.

Although some time was devoted to Scripture readings, most of the memorial was given to tributes from friends and family, including Hewlett's son, Walter B. Hewlett, and Herant Katchadourian, who sits on the board of trustees for the Flora and William Hewlett Foundation.

Maggie Lacey Schneider, a family friend, remembered the strength of the relationships Hewlett cultivated with his wife and family, starting with a story about a garage less famous than the Addison Avenue landmark that birthed HP.

Hewlett met his second wife, Rosemary, after both of them were widowed. They had much in common, she said. Both were proud Stanford grads and avid skiers, with vacation homes in Sun Valley. But Rosie's house had something Hewlett's didn't: a garage.

"To this day, Rosie claims Bill married her for her garage," Schneider said, bringing laughter to the audience.

Another friend, Arjay Miller, remembered trips to the ranch Hewlett and HP co-founder David Packard owned together. Before dawn, Hewlett would awaken everyone in the house by playing his accordion.

Miller also recalled Hewlett's serious concern for social and economic issues, which ultimately inspired him to fund the opening of a think-tank focusing on problems facing Californians. The Public Policy Institute of California opened in 1994. Hewlett, displaying typical modesty, refused suggestions it be named after him.

Miller, a former dean of Stanford's Graduate School of Business, was one of the institute's founders. Years after its launch, while out on a walk, Hewlett asked in an offhand way how things were going at the think-tank. Miller said things were well, but added that more could be accomplished with another $50 million. A week or so later, a check for that amount arrived in the mail.

Graduates of Stanford, Hewlett and Packard launched their company back in 1939, working out of the now-legendary, one-car garage in Palo Alto. From these humble beginnings arose a giant of the technological industry. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Agilent Technologies, combined, now employ more than 135,000 people, bringing in revenues of more than $59 billion in the last fiscal year.

From the top-down, the company was built on corporate citizenship. And Hewlett and Packard set the example, giving away millions through their respective foundations and other charitable organizations. The two men donated more than $300 million to Stanford alone.

David W. Packard, the elder Packard's son, read from letters and e-mails from throughout the world that flooded HP from around the world following both Hewlett's death and his own father's death nearly four years ago, talking about how much former workers valued working for the company.

"I truly felt HP was part of my extended family," wrote one person. Another talked about traveling in Singapore. "I asked the cab driver to take me to HP and he said, 'You mean the holy place?'"

Following the tributes, Robert Gregg, Stanford's former Dean of Chapel and current professor of religious studies, led the closing prayers and gave a benediction. The ceremony closed with the audience standing once again to join in singing one of Hewlett's favorite hymns, "O God, Our Help In Ages Past."

Afterward, the crowd dispersed gradually, some lingering outside the church, others making their way across the courtyard to where a reception was soon to start.

Many still held onto programs that displayed a photo of Hewlett, smiling and thoughtful--with that well-known twinkle in his eye. Inside was printed a reflection by one of his grandchildren that stated, "In the end, his greatest gift to future generations was not the compass he could build with his hands, but his moral compass. Its cardinal points were knowledge, modesty, justice and hard work. He was true to himself and an example to us all."

Forgoing the reception, Adrian Benjamin took the long walk back to his car by himself. Now a strategic business manager for Hewlett Packard, he has only been with the company a few years. Benjamin said he recently left behind a promising consulting position to work at HP because he admired the "HP Way" of respecting employees and minimizing hierarchies.

"It's kind of sad, because Silicon Valley started with Hewlett and Packard," he said. "I hope that what they were able to make successful through their philosophy and enthusiasm doesn't die along with them." 

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