Frederick Warren Hellman (1934 - 2011)

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Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, New York, USA
Death: Died in San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
Cause of death: complications of leukemia
Occupation: Financier, Philanthropist, Musician
Managed by: Eldon Clark (C)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

    • Patricia
      wife
    • Patricia
      daughter
    • Marco
      son
    • Frances
      daughter
    • Judith
      daughter
    • mother
    • father
    • Nancy
      sister

About Frederick Warren Hellman

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Birth: Jul. 25, 1934 Manhattan New York County New York, USA

Death: Dec. 18, 2011 San Francisco San Francisco County California, USA

Financier, Philanthropist, Musician

There are two obituaries copied here. One from the San Francisco Chronicle and one from the San Francisco Jewish Weekly. Each have different perspective's on Mr. Hellman's life.

  • * * *

Just last week, a meadow in Golden Gate Park was renamed Hellman Hollow — a fitting gesture for the man who gave San Francisco one of its cultural treasures, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, which takes place annually at that site.

Warren Hellman lived long enough to accept the honor from the city he adored. But on Dec. 18, a mere three days after the renaming ceremony, the billionaire financier, musician, athlete, philanthropist and passionate lover of life died from complications of leukemia.

With his youthful outlook and appearance, Hellman seemed impervious to age. Though he had the magic touch when it came to money, Hellman was happier on stage with his band, the Wronglers, banjo in hand, breaking off a sparkling clawhammer solo.

He also was happier attending Torah study, as he did regularly for more than 25 years, often at his San Francisco home. He participated in his last Torah study session just a week ago, remotely by phone from a hospital bed.

And he was happier still when giving away vast sums of his fortune to make the city and the world a better place.

"Money," Hellman once said, "is like manure. If you spread it around, good things will grow. And if you pile it up, it just smells bad."

"There aren't too many people who can move as smoothly as he could from one area to another," said Hellman's friend and fellow philanthropist, T.T. "He was a great human being and a very committed Jew. He had a global perspective on life and the world; a real renaissance man."

Added N.L., former executive director of the JCC of San Francisco and a member of the Wronglers: "I've met lots of people in the Jewish community, and I don't know anyone who exemplifies the concept of menschlicheit like Warren. He was generous, he was kind and had a real fondness for the people he met."

Frederick Warren Hellman was born in New York City in 1934, the son and great-grandson of bankers, one of whom, Isaias W. Hellman, co-founded Wells Fargo Bank and served as an inspiration to Hellman.

Hellman did not grow up with formal Jewish education or religious experience. Nevertheless, according to daughter T.H.G., Jewish values provided the bedrock of his upbringing.

"They were the fabric of his life," T.H.G. said. "He lived the commandments — the integrity, his business ethics, the way he conducted his family life [all] indicated it was in his very composition."

World War II brought a young Hellman to California, where his father was based as an Army major and his mother as a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots, a group of female civilians who flew military planes from aircraft factories to bases.

Hellman attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and later studied economics at U.C. Berkeley. After two years in the Army, he went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1959.

After graduation, through a family connection he landed a job at the Lehman Brothers investment bank and quickly worked his way up, becoming the youngest partner in the firm's history at age 28. He later served as Lehman's president, based in New York.

After returning to San Francisco, he co-founded Matrix Partners, a private equity firm that invested early on in Apple and SanDisk, in 1977. Then, in 1984, he co-founded Hellman & Friedman, another private equity firm that raised more than $25 billion in venture capital. His career made Hellman a wealthy man.

"It was never really a matter of choice," Hellman told j.'s predecessor, the Jewish Bulletin, 15 years ago, speaking of his business savvy. "It's in my genes. There was a brief period when I thought about becoming a diplomat. But I can't imagine not doing what I do. I love investing. I love everything about it."

Rather than take a Trump-like approach of conspicuous consumption, Hellman took more pleasure in giving money away.

Hellman funded the San Francisco Free Clinic and gave generously to the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Foundation (which he chaired) and the M.H. de Young Museum. His support launched the Bay Citizen news website in 2010 to support local journalism.

He also helped set up an aquatic sports endowment at U.C. Berkeley, where he spent his undergrad days as a water polo player, and endowed the Hellman Fellows Program for Cal faculty.

Hellman met his wife of 56 years, former ballet dancer P.S.H., on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth. The couple had four children, all of whom followed in their father's philanthropic footsteps.

"Philanthropy was his connection to Judaism in the beginning," Gibbs said.

Hellman's father, Marco Hellman, was at one time the largest single donor to San Francisco's Jewish federation. "That was the aspect of the Jewish tradition that was important in his family," Gibbs continued. "Even without him saying so specifically, their philanthropy was Jewish philanthropy. That was true even before his involvement in the Torah study, before his involvement with federation."

His Jewish wrestling began three decades ago with a chance encounter at a dinner party, when Hellman met Rabbi Brian Lurie, then the CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Lurie asked Hellman if he belonged to a synagogue, and was told no.

"I said, ‘Are your children getting a sense of being Jewish?' " Lurie recalled. "He said no. I said, ‘Warren … if you had a Jewish background [and rejected it], that would be one thing. But you're passing up 4,000 years of something that's been handed down to you, and you're not even taking a look at it.'"

Hellman agreed, and said to Lurie, "So what are we going to do about it?"

The two started meeting regularly, about once a month, to study Torah together. They met in the basement of the Pacific Club, where Hellman was a member.

Later, Hellman and former Jewish Community Endowment Fund Director Phyllis Cook organized a more formal Torah class, which still meets every three weeks.

At first the group studied around the Hellmans' dining room table, and later gathered in other participants' homes before settling on Hellman's office as the regular meeting place. At one point, the class went to Israel together wearing T-shirts that read "Warren's tribe."

"He became a serious Torah student," Lurie added. "He filled the class with friends and relatives, and made it a very important part of his life. That was Warren. He didn't do anything halfway. As laid-back as he was, Warren had to win. He had a real drive."

In the Bay Area Jewish community, Hellman was a major player, supporting organizations such as Jewish Vocational Service, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Lehrhaus Judaica and the Jewish Community Federation. He was chair of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and played an important role in negotiating the transfer of the Judah L. Magnes Museum's archives to U.C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

Hellman's personal interests were wide and varied. He loved to ride horses. He was a marathon runner, an avid swimmer and skier. But music held a special place in his heart.

As a young father, he bought Pete Seeger's banjo instruction book. Hellman struggled to master the instrument, but over time became more than proficient. Playing banjo opened up a new world for him, one that led to what he called "the single most fulfilling thing" he had ever done.

In 2001 he launched the Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which morphed into Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free, three-day musical blowout that over the years has featured such stars as Emmylou Harris, Alison Kraus, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello and Steve Earle.

The festival routinely draws up to 600,000 people every year, and for the last few years, Hellman himself took the stage, decked out in Western string bow tie and suit adorned with rhinestone Jewish stars.

"In front of everybody, he went from being an obvious beginner to someone who could hold his own onstage with lifelong bluegrass musicians," music critic Joel Selvin eulogized in the San Francisco Chronicle. "His bliss was a palpable part of his performance. So were the corny old jokes."

Hellman recently set up an endowment to make sure the popular festival would continue after his death.

"How could you have more fun than that?" he told Forbes in a 2006 interview. "What the hell is money for if it isn't for something like that?"

A longtime Republican who supported a number of Democratic candidates, Hellman funded San Francisco campaigns that focused on providing social services, rather than cash, for the homeless and sought to reform the city's pension system.

In recent years, Hellman stepped back somewhat from the frenetic pace he had been used to. His wife was stricken with dementia, a heartbreak that brought out the best in him, according to his daughter.

"He was incredibly loyal to my mother, even through her Alzheimer's," Gibbs said. "He took care of her, he loved her. That's a real grounding thing for a child [to witness]."

In 2009, Hellman and Gibbs had a father-daughter adult b'nai mitzvah ceremony at his synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. With the Wronglers providing musical entertainment, it was the ultimate blending of his love of family, Judaism, music and San Francisco.

"It was tremendously exciting," Hellman said afterward. "After 75 years, I have come home."

Copied from Jewish Weekly December 22, 2011; written by Sue Fishkoff, with contribution from Associated Press (edited to comply with findagrave rules)

  • * * *

Warren Hellman, the San Francisco financier whose willingness to fund an unlikely range of passions made him a force in Bay Area politics, education and music, died Sunday evening from complications of leukemia, his family said. He was 77.

Mr. Hellman built a fortune as an investor and seemed determined to spend much of it. Co-founder of the Hellman & Friedman private-equity firm, he poured money into local causes, some political, some personal.

He bankrolled San Francisco ballot measures that reformed the city's pension system and created an underground parking garage beneath Golden Gate Park. He funded the San Francisco Free Clinic and helped set up an endowment to support aquatic sports at UC Berkeley, where he played water polo as a student. Concerned about dwindling local news coverage in the Internet age, he helped form the Bay Citizen online journalism site.

And in 2001, Mr. Hellman sponsored a free, outdoor concert devoted to bluegrass music, a love he had nurtured for years.

Since then, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival has grown into an annual three-day event drawing more than 300,000 people to Golden Gate Park. It is still free, with costs covered by an endowment that Hellman - an amateur banjo player - created to ensure that the festival would continue "after I croak," he said.

His daughter P. confirmed Sunday that "yes, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival will go on!"

"He was truly a Renaissance man, excelling in so many aspects of life," she said. "He was a phenomenally successful businessman, a lifelong competitive athlete, a community leader, a dedicated musician, and fiercely devoted to his family. He and Mom were the yin and yang that made our family whole, complementary to each other in so many ways."

Mr. Hellman seemed to enjoy talking about his philanthropy more than his business deals, and often said that collecting expensive cars or art didn't interest him.

"What does move me is the philanthropic stuff," he told Forbes magazine in 2006. "Giving really does move me. Part of it is selfish. It's fun to be appreciated. But the other part is that good things really are growing."

He called the bluegrass festival a "selfish gift," one that he, the musicians and the community could all enjoy.

"How could you have more fun than that?" he told Forbes. "What the hell is money for if it isn't for something like that?"

Part of Golden Gate Park will bear his name as a result. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission recently agreed to rename Speedway Meadow, the center of the festival, as Hellman Hollow.

Mr. Hellman learned of the name change last week, said his son, M. "It meant a ton to him," he said. "He was incredibly gratified."

'Utmost effort'

Although he was born in New York City, Mr. Hellman's personality displayed a distinctly Californian combination: laid-back in some respects, relentless in others.

He competed in extreme sports and at one point finished a 100-mile race in the Sierra after falling and breaking a rib at mile 25. Known for a casual wardrobe frayed with use, his financial acumen helped build Hellman & Friedman into a powerhouse of the buyout business.

The company made its name taking jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co. private in 1985, a $1.6 billion transaction that at the time was the largest-ever buyout of a publicly held U.S. firm. In 2001, Hellman & Friedman purchased a 15 percent ownership stake in the Nasdaq stock market, expanding the stake in 2005 and selling it for considerable profit in 2007.

"Warren is very strong-willed," Mr. Hellman's wife of 56 years, C., told The Chronicle in 2001. "He doesn't like not doing well at something, so he just absolutely puts the utmost effort into everything."

New York roots

Mr. Hellman was the son of an investment banker and great-grandson of Isaias Hellman, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who became one of California's most prominent bankers in the late 19th century. Despite that California connection, Frederick Warren Hellman was born in New York, in 1934, and spent his early years in Manhattan.

World War II brought the family back to California. Both of his parents served the war effort, his father Marco ("Mick") as a major in the Army, his mother Ruth in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group of civilians who flew military planes from aircraft factories to bases.

The family, including Warren's younger sister N. settled in Vacaville, then moved to San Francisco after the war. Warren demonstrated a rebellious streak early on, at one point prompting his mother to enroll him in the San Rafael Military Academy. He suffered serious burns to one arm when, at age 9, his nightshirt caught fire while he was sneaking into his mother's room with a kerosene lamp, trying to steal a toy.

"I never really liked authority," Mr. Hellman told The Chronicle in 2001.

Business education

Mr. Hellman later attended San Francisco's Lowell High School, and his grades improved. He studied economics at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1955, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1959.

He quickly landed a job in New York at the Lehman Bros. investment bank. Mr. Hellman got the job in part through a family connection: His father phoned a cousin who worked at Lehman and asked for help.

Mr. Hellman would later acknowledge the role that privilege had played in his life.

"I can't take myself too seriously," he told The Chronicle in 2001. "I realize that a huge percentage of everything is luck."

Mr. Hellman did not, however, coast on luck. He rose quickly at Lehman, developing a reputation as a driven young man. At age 28 , he became the youngest partner in Lehman Bros. history. Ten years later, he became the company's president.

Venture investing

A foray into venture capital took him to Boston, where in 1977 he co-founded the firm now known as Matrix Partners, an early-stage investor in such companies as SanDisk and Apple. But he soon returned to California, and in 1984 formed Hellman & Friedman with Tully Friedman.

In a business known for slash-and-burn tactics, Hellman & Friedman took a distinctive approach.

Unlike many buyout firms, Hellman & Friedman typically doesn't take over companies only to break them into pieces that can be sold for a profit. It buys companies with healthy cash flows that need help improving operations or moving to a new phase. It focuses on companies rich in intellectual capital - such as software and financial services - and light on hard assets such as factories.

"The companies we buy, for the most part, are large, profitable enterprises, though they may have a curable blemish," Mr. Hellman told The Chronicle in 2005.

The results have been mixed.

Acknowledging failure

In 1995, Mr. Hellman was instrumental in a stock buyback at Levi Strauss & Co. that effectively took control of the company from 250 family shareholders and consolidated it among four men, including Mr. Hellman and then-CEO Robert Haas. The company pared its debt and improved its bottom line, but annual sales never again hit their 1996 peak of $7.1 billion.

Even Mr. Hellman once described the success of the Levi's buyback as "debatable." He was known to talk about the firm's bad business decisions at length, if potential Hellman & Friedman investors asked.

"He's like, 'Failures? Let me tell you about our failures!' " his son, now a senior adviser at the firm, once told The Chronicle. "We asked him not to spend an hour on the failures, but to encapsulate them in a couple of points."

Outside interests

Business, however, was not his sole concern.

His spread his money, and his attention, around. He served on the board of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and in 1994 he and his wife established the Hellman Fellows Program, which supports tenure-track faculty at University of California campuses.

He also chaired the Mills College board of trustees at a pivotal moment in the school's history. In May 1990, the board voted to admit male students for the first time in a bid to boost enrollment and stabilize the college's shaky finances. The decision touched off a revolt among students and alumnae, and national media flocked to the Oakland campus. One of the more pointed protest signs singled out Hellman for criticism, reading "Warren: Go to hell, man."

Two weeks after the vote, Mr. Hellman stood before a large crowd on campus and unrolled a banner that read, "Mills. For Women. Again." The board had backed down. Years later, he still had a souvenir sign from the protests on a bookshelf in his Stinson Beach vacation home.

Political activity

A Republican in a heavily Democratic city, Mr. Hellman also became deeply involved in San Francisco politics, usually behind the scenes.

He helped finance the campaigns of candidates he considered friendly to business, including former Mayor Willie Brown, and he chaired the Committee on Jobs, an organization representing the city's downtown business interests.

Together with U.S. Sen. D.F. and Gap Inc. founder D.F., he formed a group called SFSOS to tackle problems he felt were hurting the city, starting with homelessness. The group backed the 2002 ballot measure Proposition N, written by then-Supervisor G.N., which ended San Francisco's practice of handing out monthly cash grants to homeless people. Commonly known as Care Not Cash, the measure channeled the money into social services instead and helped catapult Newsom into the mayor's office.

"We've got to find better ways to deal with the homeless," Mr. Hellman said. "It isn't kindness to have them simply sleeping on the streets."

His political involvement will have lasting effects.

Civic improvements

He was part of a group of civic and political leaders who in 1998 hammered out an agreement to build a parking garage beneath Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse, and he took charge of raising roughly $55 million in private financing to build it. The garage was considered key to keeping the de Young Museum, badly damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, from moving to another location but was bitterly opposed by some neighbors, bicyclists and environmentalists.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hellman spearheaded months of negotiations among union leaders and San Francisco politicians on a plan to reform the city government's pension system, trying to defuse what many considered a fiscal time bomb. The plan they finally devised, and placed on the November ballot for voter approval, called for city employees to put a larger portion of their salaries into the pension fund and work longer to receive maximum benefits.

The effort turned into an election-day showdown against a competing pension reform plan from Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whom Mr. Hellman had supported in an earlier, failed attempt to reform the pension system. In the end, the plan backed by Mr. Hellman, Mayor Ed Lee and several unions won, garnering 68 percent of the vote. If it works as planned, it could save the city $1.3 billion over the next 10 years.

Bluegrass in his blood

But the bluegrass festival may be his most visible legacy.

Mr. Hellman never revealed its annual budget. But he and Dawn Holliday, the general manager of Slim's and the Great American Music Hall nightclubs, booked top-flight talent, expanding the festival's range and reputation each year. Beyond a core group of performers centered on Emmylou Harris and Hazel Dickens, who died in April, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has lured Bright Eyes, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, the Mekons and Dolly Parton to its stages.

Mr. Hellman approached the festival as a smitten fan, often using a golf cart to dart between stages and catch as many acts as possible. He once said becoming a great musician was more impressive than becoming a bank president. An amateur banjo player, he and his group the Wronglers played at the festival several times, although he claimed someone had launched a petition drive to prevent future performances.

The Wronglers teamed with singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore for a 2011 album, "Heirloom Music." During his final months of his life, he toured with the group for a last series of concerts - the final one coming on Oct. 12 in Nashville.

"Somehow it must be like drugs, because it is addictive," he told The Chronicle in 2005. "It just makes you feel so happy. And at my age, I don't run as fast as I used to. I can't ski the same terrain that I did. But I'm getting better at the banjo."

Mr. Hellman is survived by his wife, P.C.H. of San Francisco; son M.H. of Kentfield; daughters F.H. of Berkeley, J.H. of San Francisco and P.H.G. of San Francisco; his sister, N.H.B. of San Francisco; and 12 grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, the Bay Citizen and the San Francisco School Alliance. The family also requests a donation of blood or platelets to a local blood bank.

Copied from San Francisco Chronicle December 19, 2011; written by staff writers, Sam Whiting, Joe Garofoli and Kevin Fagan (edited to comply with findagrave rules)


Family links:

Parents:
  • Marco Frances Hellman (1906 - 1973)
  • Ruth Koshland Hellman (1913 - 1972)

Burial: Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum Colma San Mateo County California, USA -------------------- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Hellman

F. Warren Hellman (July 25, 1934 – December 18, 2011) was a private equity investor and co-founder of Hellman & Friedman, a multi-billion dollar private equity firm.[1] Hellman also co-founded Hellman, Ferri Investment Associates, today known as Matrix Partners, and started and funds the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Hellman passed away on December 18, 2011 of complications from his treatment for leukemia.[2] Contents [show] [edit]Career

Hellman co-founded Hellman & Friedman in 1984 with Tully Friedman and served as chairman of the firm as well as a member of the Firm's Investment and Compensation Committees. Before H&F, Hellman was a founding partner of Hellman, Ferri Investment Associates which would later be renamed Matrix Management Company. Today, Matrix is among the most prominent venture capital firms in the U.S. Before that, Hellman worked in investment banking at Lehman Brothers, where he served as President as well as head of the Investment Banking Division and Chairman of Lehman Corporation. Hellman received his undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley and he received an MBA from Harvard Business School. [edit]Family history

Though his fortune was largely self-made, Hellman was the great-grandson of Isaias W. Hellman, a prominent early California banker, philanthropist, and a founding father of the University of Southern California.[3] [edit]Other affiliations

Hellman was the primary sponsor and provided funding for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.[4][5][6] In 2011, Speedway Meadow was renamed Hellman Hollow to honor his history of philanthropy and civic involvement in San Francisco. [7] Hellman was a donor and supporter of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), a nonprofit organization that helps people transform their lives through work. Hellman was a Director of D.N.& E. Walter & Co. and Sugar Bowl Corporation. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2005, Hellman was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Hellman was the Chairman of the Board of The Bay Citizen, a non-profit news organization focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Citizen was founded with a $5 million contribution from the Hellman Family Foundation.[8] He formerly served as a Director of numerous portfolio companies, including Eller Media Company, Nasdaq Stock Market and Young & Rubicam. Hellman served in the U.S. Army from 1955 through 1957. Warren Hellman was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in December of 2011. Speedway Meadow, the location of his festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, has been officially renamed "Hellman Hollow".

Warren Hellman, financier and philanthropist, dies at 77 David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer Monday, December 19, 2011 Warren Hellman, the San Francisco financier whose willingness to fund an unlikely range of passions made him a force in Bay Area politics, education and music, died Sunday evening from complications of leukemia, his family said. He was 77.

Public services are planned for Wednesday at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco and will be followed within a few weeks by a community celebration of Mr. Hellman's life, his family said.

Mr. Hellman built a fortune as an investor and seemed determined to spend much of it. Co-founder of the Hellman & Friedman private-equity firm, he poured money into local causes, some political, some personal.

He bankrolled San Francisco ballot measures that reformed the city's pension system and created an underground parking garage beneath Golden Gate Park. He funded the San Francisco Free Clinic and helped set up an endowment to support aquatic sports at UC Berkeley, where he played water polo as a student. Concerned about dwindling local news coverage in the Internet age, he helped form the Bay Citizen online journalism site.

And in 2001, Mr. Hellman sponsored a free, outdoor concert devoted to bluegrass music, a love he had nurtured for years.

Since then, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival has grown into an annual three-day event drawing more than 300,000 people to Golden Gate Park. It is still free, with costs covered by an endowment that Hellman - an amateur banjo player - created to ensure that the festival would continue "after I croak," he said.

His daughter Patricia Hellman Gibbs confirmed Sunday that "yes, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival will go on!"

"He was truly a Renaissance man, excelling in so many aspects of life," she said. "He was a phenomenally successful businessman, a lifelong competitive athlete, a community leader, a dedicated musician, and fiercely devoted to his family. He and Mom were the yin and yang that made our family whole, complementary to each other in so many ways."

Mr. Hellman seemed to enjoy talking about his philanthropy more than his business deals, and often said that collecting expensive cars or art didn't interest him.

"What does move me is the philanthropic stuff," he told Forbes magazine in 2006. "Giving really does move me. Part of it is selfish. It's fun to be appreciated. But the other part is that good things really are growing."

He called the bluegrass festival a "selfish gift," one that he, the musicians and the community could all enjoy.

"How could you have more fun than that?" he told Forbes. "What the hell is money for if it isn't for something like that?"

Part of Golden Gate Park will bear his name as a result. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission recently agreed to rename Speedway Meadow, the center of the festival, as Hellman Hollow.

Mr. Hellman learned of the name change last week, said his son, Mick Hellman. "It meant a ton to him," he said. "He was incredibly gratified."

'Utmost effort'

Although he was born in New York City, Mr. Hellman's personality displayed a distinctly Californian combination: laid-back in some respects, relentless in others.

He competed in extreme sports and at one point finished a 100-mile race in the Sierra after falling and breaking a rib at mile 25. Known for a casual wardrobe frayed with use, his financial acumen helped build Hellman & Friedman into a powerhouse of the buyout business.

The company made its name taking jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co. private in 1985, a $1.6 billion transaction that at the time was the largest-ever buyout of a publicly held U.S. firm. In 2001, Hellman & Friedman purchased a 15 percent ownership stake in the Nasdaq stock market, expanding the stake in 2005 and selling it for considerable profit in 2007.

"Warren is very strong-willed," Mr. Hellman's wife of 56 years, Chris, told The Chronicle in 2001. "He doesn't like not doing well at something, so he just absolutely puts the utmost effort into everything."

New york roots

Mr. Hellman was the son of an investment banker and great-grandson of Isaias Hellman, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who became one of California's most prominent bankers in the late 19th century. Despite that California connection, Frederick Warren Hellman was born in New York, in 1934, and spent his early years in Manhattan.

World War II brought the family back to California. Both of his parents served the war effort, his father Marco ("Mick") as a major in the Army, his mother Ruth in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group of civilians who flew military planes from aircraft factories to bases.

The family, including Warren's younger sister Nancy (now Nancy Bechtle, chairwoman of the Presidio Trust), settled in Vacaville, then moved to San Francisco after the war. Warren demonstrated a rebellious streak early on, at one point prompting his mother to enroll him in the San Rafael Military Academy. He suffered serious burns to one arm when, at age 9, his nightshirt caught fire while he was sneaking into his mother's room with a kerosene lamp, trying to steal a toy.

"I never really liked authority," Mr. Hellman told The Chronicle in 2001.

Business education

Mr. Hellman later attended San Francisco's Lowell High School, and his grades improved. He studied economics at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1955, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1959.

He quickly landed a job in New York at the Lehman Bros. investment bank. Mr. Hellman got the job in part through a family connection: His father phoned a cousin who worked at Lehman and asked for help.

Mr. Hellman would later acknowledge the role that privilege had played in his life.

"I can't take myself too seriously," he told The Chronicle in 2001. "I realize that a huge percentage of everything is luck."

Mr. Hellman did not, however, coast on luck. He rose quickly at Lehman, developing a reputation as a driven young man. At age 28 , he became the youngest partner in Lehman Bros. history. Ten years later, he became the company's president.

Venture investing

A foray into venture capital took him to Boston, where in 1977 he co-founded the firm now known as Matrix Partners, an early-stage investor in such companies as SanDisk and Apple. But he soon returned to California, and in 1984 formed Hellman & Friedman with Tully Friedman.

In a business known for slash-and-burn tactics, Hellman & Friedman took a distinctive approach.

Unlike many buyout firms, Hellman & Friedman typically doesn't take over companies only to break them into pieces that can be sold for a profit. It buys companies with healthy cash flows that need help improving operations or moving to a new phase. It focuses on companies rich in intellectual capital - such as software and financial services - and light on hard assets such as factories.

"The companies we buy, for the most part, are large, profitable enterprises, though they may have a curable blemish," Mr. Hellman told The Chronicle in 2005.

The results have been mixed.

Acknowledging failure

In 1995, Mr. Hellman was instrumental in a stock buyback at Levi Strauss & Co. that effectively took control of the company from 250 family shareholders and consolidated it among four men, including Mr. Hellman and then-CEO Robert Haas. The company pared its debt and improved its bottom line, but annual sales never again hit their 1996 peak of $7.1 billion.

Even Mr. Hellman once described the success of the Levi's buyback as "debatable." He was known to talk about the firm's bad business decisions at length, if potential Hellman & Friedman investors asked.

"He's like, 'Failures? Let me tell you about our failures!' " his son Mick, now a senior adviser at the firm, once told The Chronicle. "We asked him not to spend an hour on the failures, but to encapsulate them in a couple of points."

Outside interests

Business, however, was not his sole concern.

His spread his money, and his attention, around. He served on the board of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and in 1994 he and his wife established the Hellman Fellows Program, which supports tenure-track faculty at University of California campuses.

He also chaired the Mills College board of trustees at a pivotal moment in the school's history. In May 1990, the board voted to admit male students for the first time in a bid to boost enrollment and stabilize the college's shaky finances. The decision touched off a revolt among students and alumnae, and national media flocked to the Oakland campus. One of the more pointed protest signs singled out Hellman for criticism, reading "Warren: Go to hell, man."

Two weeks after the vote, Mr. Hellman stood before a large crowd on campus and unrolled a banner that read, "Mills. For Women. Again." The board had backed down. Years later, he still had a souvenir sign from the protests on a bookshelf in his Stinson Beach vacation home.

Political activity

A Republican in a heavily Democratic city, Mr. Hellman also became deeply involved in San Francisco politics, usually behind the scenes.

He helped finance the campaigns of candidates he considered friendly to business, including former Mayor Willie Brown, and he chaired the Committee on Jobs, an organization representing the city's downtown business interests.

Together with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gap Inc. founder Donald Fisher, he formed a group called SFSOS to tackle problems he felt were hurting the city, starting with homelessness. The group backed the 2002 ballot measure Proposition N, written by then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom, which ended San Francisco's practice of handing out monthly cash grants to homeless people. Commonly known as Care Not Cash, the measure channeled the money into social services instead and helped catapult Newsom into the mayor's office.

"We've got to find better ways to deal with the homeless," Mr. Hellman said. "It isn't kindness to have them simply sleeping on the streets."

His political involvement will have lasting effects.

Civic improvements

He was part of a group of civic and political leaders who in 1998 hammered out an agreement to build a parking garage beneath Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse, and he took charge of raising roughly $55 million in private financing to build it. The garage was considered key to keeping the de Young Museum, badly damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, from moving to another location but was bitterly opposed by some neighbors, bicyclists and environmentalists.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hellman spearheaded months of negotiations among union leaders and San Francisco politicians on a plan to reform the city government's pension system, trying to defuse what many considered a fiscal time bomb. The plan they finally devised, and placed on the November ballot for voter approval, called for city employees to put a larger portion of their salaries into the pension fund and work longer to receive maximum benefits.

The effort turned into an election-day showdown against a competing pension reform plan from Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whom Mr. Hellman had supported in an earlier, failed attempt to reform the pension system. In the end, the plan backed by Mr. Hellman, Mayor Ed Lee and several unions won, garnering 68 percent of the vote. If it works as planned, it could save the city $1.3 billion over the next 10 years.

Bluegrass in his blood

But the bluegrass festival may be his most visible legacy.

Mr. Hellman never revealed its annual budget. But he and Dawn Holliday, the general manager of Slim's and the Great American Music Hall nightclubs, booked top-flight talent, expanding the festival's range and reputation each year. Beyond a core group of performers centered on Emmylou Harris and Hazel Dickens, who died in April, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has lured Bright Eyes, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, the Mekons and Dolly Parton to its stages.

Mr. Hellman approached the festival as a smitten fan, often using a golf cart to dart between stages and catch as many acts as possible. He once said becoming a great musician was more impressive than becoming a bank president. An amateur banjo player, he and his group the Wronglers played at the festival several times, although he claimed someone had launched a petition drive to prevent future performances.

The Wronglers teamed with singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore for a 2011 album, "Heirloom Music." During his final months of his life, he toured with the group for a last series of concerts - the final one coming on Oct. 12 in Nashville.

"Somehow it must be like drugs, because it is addictive," he told The Chronicle in 2005. "It just makes you feel so happy. And at my age, I don't run as fast as I used to. I can't ski the same terrain that I did. But I'm getting better at the banjo."

Mr. Hellman is survived by his wife, Patricia Christina "Chris" Hellman of San Francisco; son Marco "Mick" Hellman of Kentfield; daughters Frances Hellman of Berkeley, Judith Hellman of San Francisco and Patricia Hellman Gibbs of San Francisco; his sister, Nancy Hellman Bechtle of San Francisco; and 12 grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free Clinic, the Bay Citizen and the San Francisco School Alliance. The family also requests a donation of blood or platelets to a local blood bank.

Chronicle staff writers Sam Whiting, Joe Garofoli and Kevin Fagan contributed to this report.

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Frederick Hellman's Timeline

1934
July 25, 1934
Manhattan, New York, New York, USA
2011
December 18, 2011
Age 77
San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
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Colma, San Mateo, California, USA