Philanthropist, arts patron Evelyn Haas dies
Mrs. Haas, widow of Walter A. Haas Jr., led the family foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, which has contributed more than $364 million to hundreds of community and cultural organizations that make the Bay Area what it is. They include the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the restoration of Crissy Field and The Chronicle's Season of Sharing Fund. The Haas family also owned the Oakland Athletics from 1980 to 1995, a period cherished, and missed, by many Bay Area baseball fans.
Friends and civic leaders said that Mrs. Haas was as comfortable wading in a trout stream or walking around Crissy Field as she was enjoying a concert at Davies Symphony Hall or perusing an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was passionate about those interests, but more concerned that everyone would get to share them.
"She didn't like to talk about her philanthropy," said Ira Hirschfield, president of the foundation. "What was really important to Evie was that it make a difference and touch people's lives in tangible ways.
"It was about leveling the playing field so that all families could live and raise their families with equality and dignity, to make sure all families had an equal chance to enjoy their lives," he said.
Greg Moore, executive director of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, said that desire was what drove Mrs. Haas to lead the effort to restore Crissy Field, which was completed in 1999. "Today it is just a beautiful place, which is what she wanted - to create a beautiful place that everyone could use and enjoy."
From the time she studied for her bachelor's degree at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Mrs. Haas had a passion for the arts. After she and her husband married and moved to San Francisco in 1940, she grew to love the Symphony and SFMOMA. She was a longtime leader on the museum's board, and she and her husband were instrumental in raising the $95 million to build the new museum in 1995. He died later that year.
"SFMOMA was the love of her life - except for her husband, Walter, and her children," said Elaine McKeon, former president of the museum. "But she was just the sweetest person, interested in everyone she met. She was a real mentor to me."
San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas said Mrs. Haas, who served on the Symphony board for 40 years, loved classical music and wanted others to learn to love it, too. She helped to do that by funding "Keeping Score: MTT on Music," a classical music program for children on public radio, television and the Internet.
"You got the impression from Evie that she had a real passion and interest in the Symphony, that it was a delight for her and that she wanted to share it with other people," Thomas said.
But Haas didn't confine her interests to the arts and philanthropy. She was an avid fly fisher - an interest she picked up from her husband. In 1979, she co-authored the book "Wade a Little Deeper, Dear," considered a classic among fly fishers.
"I met her through her foundation," said John McCosker, senior scientist at the California Academy of Sciences, and a friend, "but I also knew her because she and Wally were mad about fly fishing. That was a side of her most people didn't know."
Mrs. Haas is survived by her three children: Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus and past CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., and his wife, Colleen Gershon Haas; Betsy Haas Eisenhardt, civic leader and volunteer, and her husband, Roy Eisenhardt; and Walter J. Haas, co-chairman of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and past chairman and CEO of the Oakland Athletics, and his wife, Julie Salles Haas. She is also survived by six grandchildren, Elise Haas, Jesse Eisenhardt, Sarah Eisenhardt, Simone Haas Zumsteg, Charlotte Haas Prime and Walter A. Haas III; great-grandson Andy Zumsteg; and great-granddaughter Olivia Evelyn Prime.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco.
The family asks that memorial donations be made to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund or Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.
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