I am very saddened to share that our beloved John Stahr, long-time and illustrious board member, passed away in his sleep last night, just a few weeks shy of his 88th birthday. With Elizabeth, there are very few couples who have had an equal impact on the Symphony. His marriage to Elizabeth lasted nearly 70 years and what a life they have enjoyed together!
John was a very devoted father of four amazing children who are extremely accomplished. Their eldest, Walter Stahr, has been very involved in Symphony activities, carrying on his parents’ interests in classical music, arts education and scholarship. I must add that Walter has been angelic in his care for John and Elizabeth.
John was a prodigious reader, and he enjoyed close friendships with many in his book club and through other activities. John could remember the details of everything he read, whether recent or 30 years ago. He could offer insights on almost any travel, history, political, literary or artistic topic.
He also had a dazzling ability for self-deprecation that could lighten the mood of any meeting. For someone so accomplished, he didn’t care to brag or grab attention.
Our Music Director Carl St.Clair and John had a close, trusting relationship. Of John, Carl shared with me, “John was a man of great character who had no fear in standing up for his beliefs. He did so with intense passion and tireless dedication. His spirit and convictions will remain etched into the heart of the Pacific Symphony forever. As a friend, I will miss him dearly.”
John had a very distinguished legal career, and was founder of the Orange County office of Latham and Watkins, where he practiced for 30 years. It was in his philanthropy, however, that John truly established a phenomenal reputation. It’s impossible to give proper due to this man who influenced so many good things in our community.
Of course, most of you remember that John was the chairman of the Pacific Symphony board as we entered the new concert hall and toured internationally in 2006. He didn’t shrink from the challenge of raising the funds to build the Symphony towards these monumental goals. Along with Ron and Joyce Hanson, Elizabeth and he established the instrument acquisition program that outfitted our percussion section and helped musicians acquire expensive instruments they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford. After he stepped down from being chairman, his devotion didn’t let up, as he raised over $500,000 to help complete the William J. Gillespie Organ. He dubbed the group the “Pipe Dreamers.” Their philanthropy culminated with an incredible gift to endow the Principal Second Violin Chair occupied by Bridget Dolkas.
John was also deeply passionate about advancing the talents of young people. He supported Elizabeth as she assumed the leadership of the Pacific Symphony Youth Ensemble Board. I could see how proud he was of the talented middle and high school students, with their prodigious talents and academic excellence. It’s very likely that the Symphony would be a significantly diminished organization without John’s leadership.
Prior to their heavy involvement with the Symphony, Elizabeth and John led the effort to raise funds to build the Newport Beach library. He and Elizabeth later established a fund for the UC Irvine library system. John was chairman of Arts Orange County during its formative years and later led the Board of South Coast Repertory. He was also a long-time member of DOCA, the Defense Orientation Conference Association, a forum for business leaders to have continuing education on defense and national security affairs provided by senior leaders of the Department of Defense and the Department of State. John was also extremely devoted to his alma mater Stanford University and the Hoover Institution.
Everyone who had the good fortune to know John would likely characterize him as a meteor, a force of nature, and someone who lived his life on his own terms. He pushed through many physical challenges these past years, attending meetings, concerts and gatherings of all varieties while struggling with a great deal of pain. He NEVER complained. Life was too important, and he had incredible passion for his friends, family, learning and, of course, music. I spoke to him last week and he told me how much he missed live performances and being together with the Symphony family, the musicians and Carl. He loved attending rehearsals and going backstage to see the musicians he loved. The musicians loved him right back.
Personally, Michele and I invited John to offer a prayer at our wedding in 2005. We all cried together as he spoke so lovingly about the sacred bonds of marriage. John was a devout man, and his spirituality manifested itself in all the goodness he brought to our lives. John was a father figure to me, and I will really, really miss him. On behalf of the Symphony family, we send our deepest condolences to the Stahr family. A memorial is being planned but no details are known yet.
Elizabeth Stahr asked that, if you wish to do so, donations be made to the Pacific Symphony to support our Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles program about which John and Elizabeth care so deeply about. If you wish to make a gift in his honor, you may send it to:
John Stahr Memorial Fund
Charlie and Ling Zhang Center for Musical Arts and Education
17620 Fitch, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92614