Melvin B. Lane, former trustee and environmental champion, dies

Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service Mel Lane

Mel Lane initiated the campaign to raise the funds to restore Memorial Church after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. His efforts to build support for the restoration were so successful that he also was able to repair damage the church had sustained in the earthquake of 1906.

Melvin B. Lane, a former co-owner and publisher of Lane Publishing Co. and Sunset Magazine and Books, and the first chairman of both the California Coastal Commission and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, died at his home on Saturday, July 28, in Atherton, Calif., of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 85.

Lane also was a passionate enthusiast of Stanford University. A trustee from 1981 to 1991, he led numerous development efforts including the long-range land-use plan, Stanford Athletics, the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Woods Institute for the Environment. He received numerous awards and accolades not only for his accomplishments, generosity and successful fundraising, but also for what many describe as his low-key, trustworthy leadership style.

Lane initiated the campaign to raise the funds to restore Memorial Church after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. His efforts to build support for the restoration were so successful that he also was able to repair damage the church had sustained in the earthquake of 1906. Many of the church's elegant balconies had been closed from 1906 until 1990, when Lane oversaw their restoration and re-opening.

Robert Gregg, professor emeritus of religious studies and former dean of the chapel at Stanford Memorial Church, said Lane understood that rebuilding the church would help the campus recover from the earthquake. Lane was tireless—and fearless—as a fundraiser.

"Mel would climb with potential donors up ladders through the scaffolding to the very dome of the church to show them the work being done," Gregg said. "It was a pretty dicey climb and some people did not complete the climb."

Gregg, who met Lane in 1987, described his longtime friend as a modest, humble person who never called attention to himself. He said Lane was known for his loyalty, reliability and quiet strength, which he manifested in his relationship with his family, close friends, Stanford and the state of California—"to which he gave a sparkling coast."

Lane had a quiet sense of humor, Gregg said, and was known for his quips and observations. "He was never cruel," Gregg said, "but he would point out the obvious ironies."

Stanford President John Hennessy said it is hard to imagine Stanford without Mel Lane.

"His intelligence and dedication in service to the university are without parallel; his hard work, loyalty and humility are examples to us all," Hennessy said. "Mel was a wise counselor and trustee and a devoted champion of the university. From helping to restore our beloved Memorial Church after the Loma Prieta earthquake to supporting the humanities and creative writing, to lifelong support for our environmental research and teaching, Mel has touched virtually every corner of Stanford.

"But Mel's contributions extended well beyond Stanford. His early dedication to the California environment, his efforts to protect San Francisco Bay and his chairmanship of the Coastal Commission are evidence of remarkable vision and humanity. The world has lost an extraordinary human being, but at the same time, we are all fortunate that we have shared in Mel's tremendous good works, wisdom and generosity of spirit."

Born in 1922 in Des Moines, Iowa, Lane moved with his parents in 1928 to San Francisco when his father bought the fledgling travel magazine Sunset.

Lane attended Palo Alto High School and Pomona College and graduated from Stanford University in 1944 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Upon his return from naval service, he began work for his family, as it carried Sunset out of the Depression.

Lane settled into the company's business management and the new book division, shepherding the division as it became the pioneer of the home do-it-yourself movement. He was respected not only for his strategic business acumen but also for his unending support and the high value he placed on employees.

The Lane family sold Lane Publishing Co. in 1990 to Time Warner. After the sale, Lane, who drove around Atherton in his 1971 Chevrolet convertible, told a reporter, "I don't plan to do anything different as far as the money goes. I told some friends that I might afford a new car." At the time of the sale, Sunset was the premier regional magazine in the United States.

In 1965, Lane was appointed by then Gov. Edmund G. Brown to be the first chairman of the newly created San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). The San Francisco Bay Plan developed by the commission in the late 1960s, in large part approved by the legislature in 1969, still governs protection of the Bay and development of its shoreline.

In 1972, Lane was appointed by then Gov. Ronald Reagan to be the first chairman of the statewide California Coastal Commission, which was created by the passage of Proposition 20 in the 1972 election. The commission's plan for the coast is likewise still the primary constitution for conservation and development of the 1,100-mile California coastline. Along with Joseph Bodovitz, executive director for both the BCDC and the Coastal Commission, Lane is credited with developing plans and proposals enacted by the governor and legislature that have achieved major successes in protecting two of California's most valuable natural resources.

Lane recognized earlier than many people that a sound economy and a healthy environment go together. As early as 1974 he commented, "As soon as business tightens up, not only do we drop environmental controls but as a shot to the economy we drill for more oil and cut down trees. These are a rip-off of the environment that can't be done indefinitely, so it's poor business."

After resigning from the Coastal Commission in 1977, Lane continued to use his skills and credibility to protect fragile areas with the Peninsula Open Space Trust, to provide leadership for the World Wildlife Fund, to establish the California Environmental Trust and to create an environmental institute at Stanford.

"He clearly brought as much integrity and kindness to his family and friends as to all his other endeavors," said his daughter Julie Lane Gay.

Lane is survived by his wife of 54 years, Joan Fletcher Lane; daughters Whitney Miller and Julie Lane Gay; sons-in-law Richard Miller and Craig Gay; and four grandchildren, Andrew, Elsa, Owen and Nicholas. He also leaves his brother, L. W. "Bill" Lane, with whom he ran Lane Publishing for nearly 40 years.

A memorial service will be held in Stanford Memorial Church at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11. All balconies will be open. A reception will follow at the Arrillaga Alumni Center on campus.

In lieu of flowers, gifts in Lane's memory would be welcome at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, Peninsula Open Space Trust or the World Wildlife Fund.