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Philanthropist Warren Hellman dies at 77

Sunday, December 18, 2011

imageWarren Hellman, the banjo-picking billionaire financier and philanthropist whose extraordinary if not eccentric interests influenced a broad swath of San Francisco’s cultural and political landscape, died tonight at UCSF Medical Center. The Bay Citizen, of which the 77-year-old Hellman served as chairman and whose $5 million in seed money helped to launch, reports that the cause was from complications from treatment for leukemia. An excerpt from the TBC obituary:

A rugged iconoclast whose views on life rarely failed to surprise, Hellman was a lifelong Republican who supported labor unions, an investment banker whose greatest joy was playing songs of the working class in a bluegrass band, and a billionaire who wanted to pay more taxes and preferred the company of crooners and horsemen who shared his love of music and cross-country “ride and tie” racing.

Lanky and angular, an endurance runner and skier, Hellman had a penchant for politically incorrect humor and little tolerance for phonies. He was a ragged dresser, an apologetic capitalist and one of the most beloved figures in San Francisco history.

Hellman acquired the nickname “Hurricane Hellman” early in his business career. At 26, he became the youngest-ever partner at Lehman Brothers, the now-defunct financial services firm; in 1973, at 39, he was named president and head of investment banking. In 1977, he co-founded the venture capital firm Matrix Partners, an early investor in Apple, Continental Cable (now Comcast) and Stratus Computer. In 1984, Hellman launched Hellman & Friedman LLC, a private equity firm that has raised over $25 billion in capital.

Hellman spent as much energy distributing his wealth as he did acquiring it.

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