If it was a worthy cause, Robert Grimm was always there to help.
The former Los Altos mayor and retired Hewlett-Packard Co. executive quietly volunteered in many capacities inside and outside Los Altos, over many decades and in many ways.
Through donations, considerable technical expertise and sage advice, Bob built community everywhere he went.
Bob, 88, died in Tanzania, Africa, Saturday from injuries sustained when a sudden gust of wind overturned his tent Friday. He was on a trip to the Serengeti plain with longtime friends Art Carmichael, also a former Los Altos mayor, and Julie Rose, president of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.
Carmichael said a “mini-tornado” hit their camp and a wooden bed landed on top of Bob. Carmichael accompanied Bob as he was airlifted to a hospital in Arusha, the nearest city. Carmichael said the injuries were not considered life threatening at the time, but Bob died the next day of cardiac arrest.
“There is nothing Bob touched in the city of Los Altos that he didn’t make better,” said Richard Henning, Professor, Dean and Vice President Emeritus at Foothill College and a longtime friend. “He was the most relentlessly positive man I ever knew. He never judged others and accepted everyone. He was a towering person in my life for three decades and, with his passing, part of me is gone. I am overwhelmed with grief.”
A major supporter of organizations ranging from the Los Altos History Museum to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Bob offered a helping hand everywhere. If he wasn’t donating money, he volunteered as treasurer on numerous campaigns for city council, school board, parcel taxes and bond measures. If he wasn’t addressing a technical issue with one of the floats for the annual Festival of Lights Parade, he was at a community meeting, lending thoughtful advice on how to address a problem.
Perhaps what made him even more endearing was a humility that belied his tremendous talents and involvement. Bob was a listener who only spoke when he felt he had something to contribute.
“Bob was so selfless and quiet about all his accomplishments,” said Nancy Schneider, who worked with him for years on the Festival of Lights Parade. “I’m not sure anyone knows how many groups and projects he volunteered for and supported. Our group, like so many other nonprofits, is better in so many ways because of Bob’s time and contributions. He was truly a great man.”
“Bob Grimm was the heart of The Tech,” said Tim Richie, president and CEO of the Tech Museum of Innovation. “Beloved by staff and board, Bob created one of our signature programs, The Tech Challenge, and helped lead our construction efforts when we built our current building in the late 1990s. He was the most knowledgeable IMAX volunteer in the country. Bob was unfailingly generous, persistent, kind and rigorous. The world is different now that he’s gone.”
Bob is one of the main reasons Los Altos has a history museum. He and his wife, Marion, made it their mission to bring a first-class museum to Los Altos. In part because of their efforts, the Town Crier selected the Grimms as its Los Altans of the Year for 1997. Bob donated $10,000 a year to ensure that the museum charged no admission.
“He has been such a big part of Los Altos for so long,” said Nan Geschke, who served with Bob as co-project managers of museum construction.
Geschke marveled at how Bob responded to requests for projects.
“When do you need it?” she recalled him saying. “Next thing you know, it would be done.”
A legacy of service
Born in Macon, Mo., in 1926, Bob earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from Purdue University. He immigrated to California when he joined HP as a development engineer in 1951. Two years later, he married Marion, an Ohio native who was doing graduate work in psychology at Stanford University. In Marion, a no-nonsense, hardworking community contributor, Bob found his soulmate. Marion passed away in 2008.
Both before and after his retirement from HP in 1986, Bob was an active volunteer. He worked with the United Way for 20 years, including a stint as president of the United Way of California from 1978 to 1980. He also served on the boards of the local YMCA and Red Cross branches.
He served eight years on the Los Altos City Council from 1976 to 1984, including a one-year term as mayor in 1979. In keeping with Bob’s modest nature, it was his wife who goaded him into running for council.
At one time or another, Bob has actively supported the local public school districts. He helped lead a successful drive for a $58 million bond for the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District in 1995 and assisted in a variety of capacities in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. He also was active in the successful passage of the Los Altos School District’s $150 million bond last year.
“So many of us had the opportunity to be touched by the wisdom and caring of Bob,” said Jeff Baier, superintendent of the Los Altos School District. “He had such great knowledge of so many things: engineering, politics, education, ethics – the list goes on and on. I had the opportunity to work with Bob on two campaigns: a parcel tax and the recent bond. He was so insightful and expert at cutting to the core of an issue – after he politely listened to what you had to say on the topic.”
Although Bob was quiet by nature, he loved adventure, as his trip to the African Serengeti indicates.
“He lived until he died,” Geschke said. “He never shirked from anything. He embraced life to the fullest.”
Bob is survived by four children, Thomas Grimm (Veronica) of Denver, Sue Cummings (Clyde) of Mountain View, Mike Grimm (Donna) of Sacramento and Patty Grimm of Los Altos; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial is pending.
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