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May 14, 2006

Leonard Salle, R.I.P.

-- by Dave Johnson

Update - I will post Leonard's official obituary tomorrow, along with this story from the newspaper. It will also appear at the Commonweal Institute tomorrow.

Think tank co-founder loved ideas,

Leonard M. Salle, a retired civil engineer and co-founder and president of Commonweal Institute, died May 5 at Stanford Hospital of complications from coronary bypass surgery. Mr. Salle was 69.

Commonweal, a coalition of think tanks involved in idea-marketing, was conceived in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, said his wife, Dr. Katherine "Kate'' Forrest -- the same year Mr. Salle retired from Santa Clara County's Environmental Services Agency.

She and Mr. Salle outlined what the group would look like during a flight to Washington, D.C., Forrest said. And they also considered dozens of names, including Horizon Institute.

But the couple went with Commonweal. And it turned out to be a fortunate choice, Forrest said. "A month before Sept. 11, we found out Horizon Institute was the name of a Saudi Arabian flight training school!''

Commonweal hired its first executive director, Laurie Spivak, a year ago. And in March, more than 50 program leaders from various progressive organizations convened for Commonweal's first First Progressive Roundtable in San Francisco.

Leonard M. Salle was born May 15, 1936, in Detroit. He graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in civil engineering and by the time he moved to San Mateo in 1960, Mr. Salle was married to Suzanne, whom he later divorced, and had fathered the first of the couple's two sons.

When Mr. Salle and Forrest met at a Stanford Singles event in 1988, their "minds clicked,'' she said. "We found we could talk about anything and that no subject was out of bounds.''

The couple married a year later, continued on in their professions and eventually went to work on a major remodel that made his Portola Valley home theirs -- and also, a place where non-profit groups could host community events.

"Len was so bright and generous with his time, a visionary who cared about people and making the world better,'' Forrest said. "And he was a gifted classical pianist.''

Mr. Salle held a number of high-level management and executive positions in civil engineering firms and was a big public advocate for safety, environmental and preservation issues.

He was president of the Santa Clara County Engineers and Architects Association. And almost single-handedly, Mr. Salle pulled together 14 other unions to form the County Employee Labor Alliance, said David Novogrodsky, a union colleague.

"Leonard Salle was clearly a competent engineer,'' Novogrodsky said. An "old-fashioned intellectual'' on a number of topics -- from unions and public works to economics and politics, he said. "And none of his ideas were horseback opinions.''

When Mr. Salle retired six years ago, Novogrodsky said: "It was obvious Leonard wasn't going fishing.''

LEONARD MYRON SALLE

Born: May 15, 1936, in Detroit, Mich.

Died: May 5, 2006, in Palo Alto.

Survived by: His wife, Dr. Katherine Forrest of Portola Valley; sons, William Salle of Agoura Hills and Stephen Salle of Sacramento; stepsons Eric Finseth of McLean, Va., and Ian Finseth of Denton, Texas; a brother, Donald Salle of San Mateo; sister-in-law Adele Salle, wife of his deceased brother, Richard Salle, of Saratoga; and six grandchildren.

Services: Memorial 2 to 6 p.m. May 27 in Taube Center at Notre Dame de Namur University, 1500 Ralston Road, Belmont.

Memorial: Memorial contributions in Mr. Salle's name can be sent to the Leonard M. Salle Memorial Education Fund at Commonweal Institute, 325 Sharon Park Drive, Suite 332, Menlo Park, Calif. 94025. For more information, see www.commonwealinstitute.org.

I will write more about Leonard at a later date. I miss him.

Posted by Dave Johnson at May 14, 2006 12:44 PM

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Comments

Dave, I'm glad to see you've put up this tribute to him. He was such a wonderful human being. I miss him too.

Posted by: Mary [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2006 1:39 PM

I am so sad to hear of Leonard's death and so happy I got to meet him. He was a wonderful, warm, and generous person, and very helpful to me in the development of my website. A hug to Kate. We will continue on, thinking of him.

Frank D. Russo

Posted by: fdr@californiaprogressreport.com [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2006 5:14 PM

I was really sorry to hear about this. I hope that the Commonweal Institute can continue to grow and thrive as a memorial to him. it's never been needed more than it is right now.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2006 7:14 PM

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