Evelyn D. Haas, a prominent Bay Area civic leader who touched the lives of millions of people through her philanthropy and public service, died on February 3rd in San Francisco at the age of 92.
Energetic matriarch of the Haas, Jr. family, Mrs. Haas dedicated her life to her family and her community. She led her family foundation, together with her husband Walter A. Haas, Jr., contributing more than $364 million to hundreds of cultural, civic, and social service organizations—from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to Crissy Field, to the San Francisco Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund. Owners of the Oakland Athletics from 1980 to 1995, Evelyn, Walter and their family earned a reputation for bringing the love of baseball back to families and the community as the A’s captured the World Series championship in 1989.
Click here to watch a video tribute to Mrs. Haas.
Born Evelyn Danzig in Elberon, New Jersey, in 1917, she grew up in New York City. She attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she developed her love of art, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1939. She met her future husband, Walter A. Haas, Jr., while he was attending Harvard Business School. They married and moved to San Francisco in 1940. Walter Haas, Jr. eventually followed his father, Walter A. Haas, and great granduncle, Levi Strauss, in leading Levi Strauss & Co. known for its world-famous jeans and socially responsible business practices. The Haases, married for 55 years, raised their three children – Robert D. Haas, Betsy Haas Eisenhardt, and Walter J. Haas – in San Francisco.
“Evelyn Haas was a proud mother and grandmother, and an active leader in the civic life of our city,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “With her husband, Walter, Evelyn dedicated her life to the least among us, and her passion, generosity and leadership will be missed. I will miss her as my neighbor and friend. San Francisco has indeed been blessed by the generosity of Walter and Evelyn Haas and the entire Haas family – from their promoting arts or sports, preserving the environment or fulfilling the promise of opportunity for all.”
A Passion for the Arts
Mrs. Haas is probably best known in the Bay Area for her leadership on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Mrs. Haas was an active volunteer leader since the 1950s, served as a trustee since 1972, and over the years was executive vice president, president, CEO and Chairman Emeritus. She, and her late husband, Walter, were instrumental in helping raise $95 million needed to build the new museum facility that opened in 1995 and today is an architectural landmark attracting more than 700,000 visitors a year from all over the world.
“Evie’s life work was in building and strengthening this museum as center of artistic inspiration and creative engagement for all who visit it,” reflected Elaine McKeon, former Chairman of SFMOMA. “She had a passion for the museum that was ever-present, encouraging generations of SFMOMA leaders to continually develop the museum’s reputation as a world class art institution. She always wanted the museum to be out in front—as one of the country’s most dynamic museums of modern and contemporary art, and as a cultural icon here in the Bay Area.”
Mrs. Haas was devoted to making art accessible to everyone and finding new ways to attract people to SFMOMA, its art collection, and its outstanding traveling exhibitions from around the world. For many years, Mrs. Haas led the museum’s membership committee and took pride in SFMOMA’s successful efforts to recruit members. The museum now boasts a membership of more than 40,600 households, one of the largest memberships of any modern art museum in the country.
“She was a remarkable leader, yet no task was too small for Evie,” McKeon said. “When the new museum opened, the long lines of people who waited in the rain were greeted by Evelyn Haas, first with coffee and then with membership applications. She delighted in finding ways for people to connect with art, especially people who had few opportunities to be exposed to it.”
Mrs. Haas loved when SFMOMA could present a major national or international art exhibition to the community. In 1997, the museum established the Evelyn D. Haas Exhibition Fund, which has brought shows that often resulted in record-breaking museum attendance such as: Degas to Picasso; Magritte; Keith Haring; The Anderson Collection; Diane Arbus; Chuck Close; Picasso and American Art; Matisse, the Painter as Sculptor; Picasso and American Art; Frida Kahlo; Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities; and 75 Years of Looking Forward.
Ensuring Access for an Entire Community
For Mrs. Haas, ensuring people had opportunities to access the Bay Area’s resources figured prominently in her philanthropy. Inspired by the idea of national parks as public spaces to be embraced by an entire community, Mrs. Haas and her family spearheaded the extraordinary restoration of Crissy Field into one of America’s premier urban national parks. Embraced by residents and tourists alike, more than one million visitors enjoy Crissy Field each year. The 100-acre park, located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, is regarded as a national model for how to create an urban park that engages diverse people in its stewardship. Several years later, they made the first lead gift to the Presidio for its Trails and Bikeways project and Rob Hill Campground. The combined gift for Crissy Field and the Presidio totaled $30 million, the largest cash gift ever made to the National Park Service.
“The Bay Area has lost one of its most treasured citizens,” said Greg Moore, Executive Director of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. “Evelyn Haas provided us steady, confident leadership that was a constant source of encouragement as we restored Crissy Field. She spent many pleasant hours taking long walks at Crissy Field, and nothing made her happier than to see so many others enjoying this park and the Presidio’s trails and campground, too. We will miss her purposeful vision, her great sense of humor, and her genuine love of community.”
A Dedicated Volunteer and Philanthropist
Throughout her adult life, Mrs. Haas was a dedicated volunteer and was as generous with her time as she was with her resources. Mrs. Haas was a leading advocate for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund. Her involvement in the annual fundraising campaign began in 1986, when her husband, Walter, approached the Chronicle to launch the special fund to benefit Bay Area individuals and families who need emergency financial assistance.
After her husband’s death in 1995, she became even more active in the campaign and was one of its most vocal, steadfast proponents, writing personal letters each year to hundreds of friends and colleagues urging them to help their Bay Area neighbors in crisis. Since 1986, Season of Sharing has provided more than $72.5 million in direct support to area residents.
Mrs. Haas also was a Life Governor of the San Francisco Symphony and was involved with the organization for more than 40 years. Her foundation provided the symphony with a $10 million lead challenge grant for the creation of “Keeping Score: MTT on Music,” aimed at bringing the power of classical music to millions of Americans’ homes and schools via television, radio and the Internet.
“Evie brought inspiration to us all,” said Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. “Her devotion to bringing the joy of classical music to kids, families and others will be remembered for years to come, here in San Francisco, across the country, and through her support of the Keeping Score Series, throughout the world.”
Mrs. Haas’ volunteer service spanned more than 60 years. She was appointed and reappointed as a city commissioner for the War Memorial Board by five San Francisco mayors: George Moscone, Dianne Feinstein, Art Agnos, Frank Jordan, and Willie Brown. She was a trustee of Children’s Hospital of San Francisco and the California Pacific Medical Center, then continued to serve on the board of the California Pacific Medical Center Foundation, where she was Trustee Emeritus. She was on the board of the Stern Grove Festival Association, an organization devoted to admission-free performing arts.
Mrs. Haas’ commitment to giving extended to national and international nonprofit organizations. She served on the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the Council of the National Gallery of Art. She was also on the board of directors for the World Wildlife Fund from 1977 to 1984.
A Love of the Great Outdoors
In addition to her many civic and cultural interests, Mrs. Haas loved the outdoors. Growing up in New York City, she was an unlikely convert to the pleasures of camping and fishing. She was, however, a person who was driven to keep trying new things and she grew to love the rivers of California, Montana and Oregon, and to cherish the time she spent on the banks of those rivers with family and friends.
Inspired by her husband’s love of fly fishing, Mrs. Haas became an accomplished angler in her own right. In 1979 she co-authored a book entitled, Wade a Little Deeper, Dear, written as an invitation for women to find their “wilderness” selves, and in particular to become fly fishers. She dedicated the book to her husband, Walter, who encouraged her skills in the “for-males-only” sport.
“There will never be another Evie Haas,” said her friend, F. Warren Hellman. “She was incredibly generous and she had the best sense of humor. She was Walter’s greatest supporter and stood by him always—in good times and challenging times. She was a mover and a shaker in her own right, and she possessed such diverse talents that gave her the courage to accomplish new and sometimes daunting challenges with grace and dignity– from fly fishing, to building a world-class modern art museum, to moving her alma mater to become a co-educational campus, to helping the most disenfranchised in our community get back on their feet. San Francisco has lost one of its finest citizens.”
Evelyn Haas is survived by her three children: Robert D. Haas, Chairman Emeritus and past CEO of Levi Strauss & Company and his wife, Colleen Gershon Haas; Betsy Haas Eisenhardt, civic leader and volunteer, and her husband, Roy Eisenhardt; Walter J. Haas, Co-chair of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and past chairman and CEO of the Oakland Athletics and his wife, Julie Salles Haas; her six grandchildren, Elise Haas, Jesse Eisenhardt and his wife, Allison Eisenhardt, Sarah Eisenhardt, Simone Haas Zumsteg and her husband, Scott Zumsteg, Charlotte Haas Prime and her husband, Josh Prime, and Walter A. Haas, III; a great grandson, Andy Zumsteg, and a great granddaughter, Olivia Evelyn Prime.