UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks issued the following statement on the passing of the university’s dear and trusted friend:
UC Berkeley mourns the loss of Gerson P. Bakar, a visionary leader in real estate, education, and philanthropy — and a tireless supporter of his alma mater. He passed away on June 5 at the age of 89.
The son of a Petaluma chicken farmer, Gerson earned a degree in business administration from Berkeley in 1948 and launched a stellar career as a Bay Area real estate developer, counting San Mateo’s Woodlake housing development and San Francisco’s Levi’s Plaza among his most notable projects. He was a man of deep integrity who employed business practices that enabled him to build and maintain healthy relationships with his associates and the public — emphasizing the need to further the greater good through business. In a 1978 commencement address at the Haas School of Business, he encouraged graduates to cultivate the kind of economic growth that improves lives. Clearly, he did just that in his own work and life.
Over the years, Gerson and his wife, Barbara, have greatly enhanced Berkeley through wide-ranging contributions and leadership that have underscored their commitment to improving our world. Highly regarded as business leaders and philanthropists, they have made a tremendously positive impact in the Bay Area. Thankfully, their generosity has often benefited Berkeley directly, from Gerson’s guidance on numerous advisory boards to Barbara’s work on the Bakar Fellows Program’s advisory committee and her current role on the UC Berkeley Board of Visitors, along with the couple’s extensive philanthropic support of the university. For decades, Gerson’s voice was one of the campus’s most influential and respected.
The couple created the Bakar Fellows Program in 2011 to support early-career faculty who are undertaking innovative science and technology research. Through the program, several fellows have applied for patents on their projects, and others have founded companies — reflecting Gerson and Barbara’s hope that the program would increase Berkeley’s contributions to California’s economy.
The Bakar Fellows Program is just one of countless ways in which Gerson and Barbara have generously given their time and expertise to the university. Gerson co-founded and remained involved with the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. He also served on the advisory board of the Haas School of Business and was a founding member of the Chancellor’s Executive Advisory Council. Together, Gerson and Barbara were actively involved with Berkeley’s first two capital campaigns, Keeping the Promise and The Campaign for the New Century. More recently, they served as the inaugural co-chairs of The Campaign for Berkeley, inspiring the Berkeley community to come together and support the university in its biggest fundraising effort to date.
Despite all that they accomplished at Berkeley, Gerson often was reluctant to be honored by the university. Never one to seek the spotlight, he had to be convinced to put their names on the facilities and programs that the couple has supported, from a computer lab at the Haas School to a transformative 2007 gift to Haas that endowed five faculty positions.
Over the many years of his involvement with Berkeley, Gerson proved himself to be the epitome of an “Old Blue” — engaged, ethical, and dedicated to ensuring and building upon Berkeley’s preeminence while inspiring others to do the same. He consistently promoted Berkeley’s excellence and service to society while supporting a remarkable range of programs and facilities. His contributions and leadership at Berkeley reflected the breadth and depth of his commitment to improving the lives of others — in medicine, affordable housing, and the arts, among other areas.
In a video commemorating Gerson and Barbara’s 2013 Chancellor’s Award, California Gov. Jerry Brown hailed the Bakars’ desire to make a difference. “I have seen a real continuity between Gerson the builder and Barbara and Gerson the philanthropists,” Gov. Brown said, “building the civic infrastructure of the Bay Area — not for a few years, but for decades.”
Besides his contributions to Cal, Gerson was a founding director of BRIDGE, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit housing corporations. Additionally, he was chairman of the building committee for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and one of the four individuals who created UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus. For years, he headed the development committee of the Endowment Fund at the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, and he played a role in countless other community efforts.
At Berkeley, Gerson’s exceptional leadership and generosity helped to sustain the excellence for which our institution has become internationally renowned, and made him an inspiration to all of us and, indeed, to the entire world. We shall deeply miss his enduring friendship, his unwavering integrity, and his grand vision for a better, healthier future for humanity.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and extended family.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, June 9, at Temple Sinai in Oakland.