By Paul Nyberg
Town Crier Publisher
Roy and Penny Lave, Los Altos residents since 1964, have the rare distinction of both serving as mayors of the city. Roy’s recent retirement from the Los Altos Community Foundation, which he co-founded in 1991, and the couple’s nearly half-century of service prompted the following “e-terview,” the first in a series.
TC: In the early 1990s, Roy, you teamed up with some others in town to form Los Altos Tomorrow, the upstart of what later became the Los Altos Community Foundation. What was the mission of the organization?
Roy:The mission of the Los Altos Community Foundation has been all these years to build community in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the surrounding areas. Because the term “building community” is not obvious on its face, we adopted the writings of Dr. John W. Gardner as our guide. Gardner participated in several of our events and became an honorary founder.
Four activities support the community-building mission: sponsorship of public benefit programs; grant making to local nonprofits and scholarships to college-bound, first-in-family-to-attend-college teens; management of philanthropic funds for individuals, families and organizations; and convening the community to address opportunities and issues.
TC: What is the foundation’s proudest achievement these past 20 years? Biggest disappointment?
Roy: I think survival for 22 years – made possible by many regular supporters, hundreds of volunteers and talented staff members – is the proudest achievement. Many of our programs have made a difference, but maybe my favorite is E3 Youth Philanthropy, which gives teenagers training and experience in philanthropy. The most visible accomplishment is the two houses saved – the Community House and Neutra House.
I am disappointed that I have been able to convince only approximately 600 families that the Los Altos Community Foundation is an essential ingredient in the community. I’d like it to be 6,000.
(Note: Joe Eyre has succeeded Roy as executive director of the Los Altos Community Foundation, an appointment that meets with Roy’s hearty endorsement. Look for further comment on the transition in next week’s issue.)
TC: You both got your start in life in the Midwest. What brought you to California, and when did you arrive?
Penny: I grew up in Lansing, Mich., where my mother’s family lived for many generations. I attended public schools and went to Wellesley College near Boston for my freshman year, then transferred to the University of Michigan and graduated from there in 1959. I met Roy at a Big Ten student conference in Ann Arbor my junior year.
Roy: I grew up in Homewood, Ill., a small Chicago suburb of 5,000, and attended high school five miles away in another suburb. I thought high school was terrific. When thinking about college began, my dad told me that I was getting an engineering degree followed by a master’s in business. And I did. I picked Michigan because it was close, inexpensive and had a combined engineering and business program.
Penny: Stanford University offered Roy a fellowship for graduate work. He was still in Ann Arbor and I was living with my parents in East Lansing. Sounded good to me. We were married in June, spent our entire $6,000 of savings on a honeymoon trip and a Porsche, which we drove for 10,000 miles through Europe. We returned to the Midwest and drove an old station wagon to California in September for the start of the school year.
Roy: California held a fascination for as long as I can remember. My mother had told me that perhaps I could go to college there. That did happen finally, thanks to Stanford and a willing spouse.
TC: Roy, you have always been rather modest about having a doctorate from Stanford University. Why is that?
Roy: A Ph.D. has been called the credential for teaching and research at the university level. When I was teaching and later doing contract research, the credential was relevant. It isn’t relevant for community work. I do, however, insist that my daughter and son address me as Dr. Dad.
TC: Meanwhile, Penny was raising your two children and keeping busy in city activities. Which years did you each serve on the city council and as mayor?
Roy: My council term was 1974 to 1982, and I served as mayor for two terms from 1976 to 1978, the last mayor before the adoption of, and perhaps the cause of, the annual rotation policy.
Penny: I was on the city council 1985 through 1993. I served as mayor in 1989 and 1993. After both our children were in school all day, I joined the Palo Alto Junior League and became more involved. The year of the Bicentennial, Roy was the Los Altos mayor and I was Junior League president. It was a hectic but fun year.
While the children cycled through Ford Country Day School, Covington, Egan Junior High and Los Altos High, I volunteered for school activities like the PTA. My favorite high school activity was always Grad Night, which I chaired in 1984. The children graduated in 1982 and 1984, and we found ourselves empty-nesters.
I always enjoyed Roy’s work with the city vicariously, and after he finished his second term, I applied for the Planning Commission. I was appointed, but after several years, some folks recruited me to run for the city council and I did in 1985.
TC: What motivated you to run for city council, Roy?
Roy: I held elected offices in high school and at Michigan, but I had no aspirations for council membership.
In the early 1970s, our neighborhood was activated by a proposal for development for much of the Jesuit retreat lands, and we fought the proposed development. The eventual development of townhouses rather the single-family houses was ultimately approved with the permanent dedication of a good deal of open space. A number of environmentalists then recruited me to run for the council.
Look for part 2 of the Town Crier’s e-terview with the Laves next week, focusing on the recent changes in downtown Los Altos.