Volunteer Ann Coombs: Author of book on Los Altos trees

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Mrs. Coombs

Longtime Los Altos resident Ann Kleerup Coombs was the ultimate community volunteer. She was active in many organizations, conscientious and thorough in virtually every task she took on. Mrs. Coombs, 86, died April 4 after a prolonged struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Mrs. Coombs lived in Los Altos for 54 years, contributing in multiple ways. She used her background in chemistry to work on issues related to water resources and toxic and waste materials. She was active in the League of Women Voters, the Girl Scouts, local schools, the city of Los Altos, Santa Clara County (including two terms – seven and a half years – as a county planning commissioner) and the state of California.
Former State Sen. Becky Morgan of Los Altos Hills nominated Mrs. Coombs to serve on the Planning Commission, where she did her homework, traveling to sites all over the county where plans were being proposed in an effort to offer  better-informed decisions.
She also served on numerous committees, including the Santa Clara County Hazardous Waste Planning Committee, the California Department of Health Services Integrated Site Management Advisory Committee and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Integrated Environmental Management Project Public Advisory Committee.
In 2004, Mrs. Coombs received the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Joint Community Volunteer Service Award.
“She had an insatiably curious mind and was always learning about, and working on, new projects,” said Clyde Coombs, her husband of 64 years. “I think one of the things that made her so valuable, beyond her chemistry background and willingness to work hard for these groups, was the fact that she approached them with no agenda, other than making sense. It wasn’t always easy.”
Mrs. Coombs’ interest in other cultures helped her family fully experience the then-developing country of Singapore, where they relocated for two years in 1970. And passion for gardening and water issues prompted her to write the book “Trees of Los Altos” for the Los Altos Environmental Committee. The book describes trees that thrive in the local environment. It also includes information on drought-resistant landscaping plans, as well as city regulations.  It is still available for purchase at the Los Altos History Museum, with proceeds supporting local nonprofit organizations.
Her husband said she spent two years on the book, which updated a pamphlet on city trees that had been written 40 years earlier. Mrs. Coombs’ research expanded the inventory from 40 trees in the first edition to 110 trees in her revised version. Local philanthropists Bob Grimm and Paul Nyberg funded and helped publish 3,000 copies of the book.

Smartest girl in class’

Mrs. Coombs was born in 1933 in San Francisco to Alex and Lillian Kleerup. The family moved to New York a year later, where she lived until they relocated to Fresno in 1946. She attended Fresno High School, where she edited the school yearbook and graduated as valedictorian. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in chemistry from Stanford University, with highest honors. She worked for two years as a chemist in the lab of Melvin Calvin at UC Berkeley. She married high school sweetheart Clyde in 1956, and in 1957 left Berkeley for the life of a Navy wife. When Clyde joined Hewlett-Packard Co. in 1959, they settled in Mountain View, subsequently moving to Los Altos in 1965.
Clyde described his wife as “a very bright person, the smartest girl in the class.”
“She really wanted to make a difference – she tried to make things better,” he said.
Mrs. Coombs is survived by husband Clyde; daughters Catherine Coombs (McDonald) of Sunnyvale and Julie Coombs-Hahn of Davis; grandsons Lyle Hahn of Davis, Michael McDonald of Sunnyvale and Steven McDonald of Sunnyvale; and sister Jane Threlkeld and family of Los Banos. She is predeceased by daughter Elizabeth Coombs Robinson of Menlo Park.
There are no plans for a service at this time. For those wishing to make a commemorative donation in Mrs. Coombs’ name, among the charities she supported are the League of Women Voters, Second Harvest Food Bank, Community Services Agency and Los Altos Community Foundation.