Saturday, May 25, 2024

Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, dies at 86

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Richard Blum, a San Francisco businessman, philanthropist and the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, died late Sunday, the senator’s office announced Monday morning.

“My heart is broken today,” Feinstein said in a statement. “My husband was my partner and best friend for more than 40 years. He was by my side for the good times and for the challenges. I am going to miss him terribly.”

Blum died at the family home after a long battle with cancer, the senator’s office said. He was 86.

Blum was chairman of equity investment management firm Blum Capital Partners. He also dedicated much of his life to the people of the Himalayas, founding the American Himalayan Foundation in 1981 — something Feinstein described as “one of his proudest achievements.”

“As a role model, Dick was second to none, and I think his compassion and devotion to the people of the Himalayan region may prove to be his most enduring legacy,” she said.

Feinstein has represented California in the U.S. Senate since 1992. She and Blum married in 1980 when she was mayor of San Francisco.

“Dick was incredibly devoted to his family, particularly his daughters and his grandchildren, and my heart is with them and everyone who Dick encountered,” Feinstein said. “He was the type of man who really replaced his divot in life, who left things better than he found them. His enormous generosity is an inspiration for so many of us.”

A longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, Blum was an honorary consul of Nepal, the senator’s office said. He also founded the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, which is focused on addressing global poverty.

For nearly two decades, Blum served as a member of the University of California Board of Regents and was chairman emeritus of the board.

On Monday, condolences poured in from both the state’s and nation’s capitals and beyond.

“Richard Blum lived an extraordinary life, and he left this world better than he found it — lifting up our communities and helping connect people from across the globe,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “He was a model Californian, serving the state and our higher education students wholeheartedly as a UC Regent. Our hearts are with Senator Feinstein and Richard’s entire family.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said she and her husband, Paul, were “heartbroken to learn of the passing of our dear friend.”

“A lifelong San Franciscan, Richard was a powerful force for good in our city,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Building a successful career in business, he constantly gave back to our city: whether as a patron of our arts, a donor to our food banks or a benefactor to our efforts to end homelessness.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) described Blum as a “compassionate humanitarian who dedicated his life to improving the world for others, whether by founding the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley or leading a decades-long project to end human trafficking in Nepal.”

“Above all, Dick was devoted to his family,” Padilla said. “Over his four decades of marriage to Sen. Feinstein, he took tremendous joy in supporting her pioneering leadership as a public servant. Angela and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to Dianne and her family in this difficult time.”

Blum also served as co-chairman of the World Conference on Religion and Peace and was a founding member of National Geographic’s International Council of Advisors.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a statement that he had long admired Blum’s commitment to issues in the Himalayas and across Asia, and noted that the Blum Center secured more than $650 million to address global poverty through its “Big Ideas” contest.

“Richard said he set out to create a ‘do tank,’ not a ‘think tank,’ and his success in doing so ensures that his legacy will far outlive him,” Coons said.

Blum was a longtime donor to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. In 2020, he contributed $1 million to Unite the Country, a super PAC backing Joe Biden’s presidential bid.

“I had the unique pleasure of watching Joe and Dianne tackle the toughest issues in the Senate, and we know Joe’s integrity and leadership will be a beacon to lead us forward and restore the soul of our nation,” he wrote in an email invitation to a virtual fundraiser for Biden in October 2020.

A 1990 profile of Blum published in the lead-up to Feinstein’s Senate run painted him as a well-connected man of many passions and interests.

He was “a self-made millionaire, investor, money manager, mountain climber, distance runner, philanthropist, human-rights activist and friend of the famous,” the profile said.

Friends and associates described him as an “aggressive straight shooter with boundless drive and a disarming ‘Lt. Columbo style’ that might seem to border on the bumbling but is actually quite effective.”

Born into a family of clothing merchants, Blum was a lifelong San Franciscan. His father died when he was a boy. After a brief stint at San Rafael Military Academy, Blum graduated from Lowell High School, where he was known among his peers as confident and strong-willed.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration at UC Berkeley and joined regional brokerage Sutro & Co. at the age of 23, where he worked as a $300-a-month junior research analyst. Six years later, he became the firm’s youngest partner.

In that role, Blum spearheaded the company’s $8-million purchase of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — a deal he signed, somewhat theatrically, at the Colosseum in Rome. Four years later, Blum and his partners sold the circus to Mattel Inc. for $40 million, solidifying Blum’s reputation as an investor and businessman.

He founded what would later be known as Blum Capital Partners in 1975 and also kept his hand in politics as chair of then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone’s Fiscal Advisory Committee.

It was that position that would lead him to Feinstein. In 1977, Feinstein, then president of the Board of Supervisors, met with Blum for a briefing on an economic report. At the time, she was preoccupied with the illness of her first husband, neurosurgeon Bertram Feinstein, who later died of colon cancer in 1978.

After Bertram Feinstein’s death, Dianne Feinstein again met with Blum for an economic update, and a romance soon blossomed, with Feinstein even accompanying Blum on a 1978 trip to India and Nepal.

Moscone’s assassination that same year saw Feinstein propelled into the city’s top job, and when she and Blum married in 1980, many viewed it as a “marriage of the public and private sectors,” The Times reported.

Reached Monday by phone, prominent San Francisco real estate developer, philanthropist and Democratic donor Mark Buell recalled meeting Blum when he and Feinstein first started dating.

“I watched him over the years. He enjoyed Dianne for both her beauty and her power. And I have to say, watching them over the years, that they were very good to each other,” Buell said. “He always gave Dianne good counsel.”

He described Blum as a “schmoozer” who was also “very good” and eager to give to the right causes.

About five years ago, when Buell was chairing an effort to bring the America’s Cup to San Francisco, Blum donated not because of a great attachment to the cause, Buell said, but “because it was civic, and I think that’s a good reflection of who he was.”

Blum’s vast business ties and stock holdings would occasionally dog Feinstein, and a 2020 state audit of UC’s admissions process accused him of writing an “inappropriate letter of support” to help a student get into UC Berkeley.

But the former mountain climber and distance runner, who once led a groundbreaking expedition on Mt. Everest, was remembered most on Monday for his generosity of spirit and deep devotion to family, including his three daughters from his first marriage, Annette, Heidi and Eileen, his stepdaughter Katherine and many grandchildren.

“I’ve gotten to know Richard over the years, and he was a deeply kind and considerate man,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank). “Through his many philanthropic endeavors, love of community, and warmth, Richard made the world a better place — for everyone. Beyond his professional and charitable achievements, he was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather who touched the lives of many.”

Regents Board Chair Cecilia V. Estolano said in a statement to The Times that Blum was a “deeply generous man who long served on the Board of Regents with distinction and profound impact.”

“The University of California and the people of California are stronger for his service,” she said.

Blum was also a trustee of the executive committee of the Carter Center and sat on several other boards, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Wilderness Society, the Brookings Institution, the California Academy of Sciences and the Glide Foundation, Feinstein’s office said.

“We have a hole in our hearts that will never be filled,” Feinstein said. “Dick, we love you, we’ll miss you and we’ll continue to celebrate everything you accomplished during an amazing life.”

Speaking to The Times in 1990, Blum said he believed in “pushing whatever happens to be my agenda to the max.”

“Despite the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time with Tibetans (discussing reincarnation), … no one has convinced me we come this way more than once,” he said.

Times staff writers Jennifer Haberkorn and Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.

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