Famous Lowell alumnus Warren Hellman, a philanthropist who has made many numerous contributions to the San Francisco community, passed away in December.
Hellman, co-founder of private equity firm Hellman and Friedman, died of complications from leukemia on Dec. 18, 2011.
Hellman, Class of ’51, has financially helped the Lowell community. Over the past decade, he has donated a combined total of more than $200,000 to the Lowell Alumni Association and Lowell Sports Foundation, according to LAA executive director Terence Abad.
Hellman was especially supportive of public schools. Abad said that one time when he visited the school, Hellman explained passionately that public schools were critical in society since all elements of society interact within them.
Before his death, plans were underway to place Hellman’s portrait on the Alumni Hall of Fame wall near the main entrance. Those who had made his acquaintance said that Hellman was a man who did not care about being lauded for his generosity. “Hellman didn’t care about having public notice and just wanted to do good work,” Abad said. “However, I thought it was really nice that when he was informed that his portrait was going to be put up, he was really glad and bragged about it.” The plan is to have his portrait up by the end of this school year.
Principal Andrew Ishibashi said that he admired Hellman’s humility. “Warren Hellman was an outstanding man who has done much for San Francisco,” Ishibashi said. “I remember sitting next to him during a luncheon; it’s not often that you get to sit next to a billionaire. He was a humble man and I have a lot of respect for him.”
One of Hellman’s most notable contributions to the San Francisco community was founding the San Francisco Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in 2001 and funding it since then. The Bluegrass Festival is a free outdoor concert held annually in Golden Gate Park. Over 20,000 people attended the inaugural event, according to The Huffington Post. Last year, the festival brought in a crowd of 800,000 over three days. Hellman also participated in the festival by playing the banjo in his band, the Wronglers, to entertain the audience.
Many students have been attending the event for years for the festive atmosphere and various group performances. “I have attended the Bluegrass Festival for three years already and I plan to still go with my family in the future,” freshman Kirk Jensen said. “The best part about the event is the music. I really enjoy hearing the small bands play and the food that is being sold is great.”
The Bluegrass Festival will take place this year on Oct. 5-7, as Hellman has left money for the festival to continue for at least fifteen years according to the festival’s website.
Hellman also co-founded Matrix Partners, another private equity investment firm. Hellman contributed to local journalism by finding The Bay Citizen, a Bay Area nonprofit news organization. He also spent much of his wealth towards pension reforms, the UC Berkeley aquatics program, the Mills College cross-country team and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, according to The Bay Citizen.
In memories, Speedway Meadow, home to the Bluegrass Festival, was renamed in honor of Hellman Warren on Dec. 15, 2011. Originally to be named Warren Hellman Meadow, park commissioner Mark Buell came upon a more suitable name. “Hellman Hollow seemed more fitting to who Warren is,” Buell said, quoted from a Dec. 15 article from the The Bay Citizen. “He's a little more whimsical.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 27, 2012 print edition of The Lowell.