Ruth Levison Halperin, patron of the arts, Stanford football fan

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Ruth Levison Halperin not only loved being Jewish, she loved being a Jew in the West. “It meant more about what you were capable of than who your family was, more about what you could do than what your religion was,” said her son Philip Halperin.

A fourth-generation San Francis-can, Jewish community activist, patron of the arts and lifelong Stanford football fan, Halperin died Nov. 20 of cancer. She was 81.

Halperin was a longtime member of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, and a dedicated donor to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. She also helped found Hillel at Stanford, which was chaired for a time by her husband, Robert Halperin.

She was a passionate art lover, leading the charge to build Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center and funding a curatorship there, as well as commissioning the campus’ landmark Stone River sculpture.

But friends and family best remember Halperin as a woman enchanted by life and devoted to sharing that wonder with those closest to her.

“The key thing about her,” remembered Phillip Halperin, “is that you ask questions and you never stop.” To her, life was “about discovery, learning about things and going places you hadn’t been before, going there and even getting lost.”

Ruth Levison was born into the San Francisco family that launched Fireman’s Fund insurance. At the age of 5 she attended her first Stanford football game with her father, and continued to be a lifelong fan. Until the demolition of the original Stanford stadium a few years ago, she sat in the same seat — section RR, row 69, seat 15 — to cheer on her favorite college team and her alma mater.

But she was no football dilettante. Philip Halperin recalled discovering scrapbooks from his mother’s youth, with ticket stubs to bowl games along with detailed analyses of the contests.

Involvement in the Bay Area Jewish community was a given. “The giving side stems from a tradition of my family that the Jewish community was only as good as you made it,” Philip noted. “Supporting Emanu-El, starting the JCC, that’s just what one did. That was part of diner-table conversation with parents and grandparents every day.”

Her twin brother, Robert Levison, went on to become a leading figure in Bay Area Jewish activism.

She earned a degree in political science from Stanford in 1947, and in 1956 married Robert Halperin, with whom she had three children. She worked for White House and Emporium department stores while her husband served as an executive for Raychem. The family settled in Atherton.

“She was not like the other moms,” Philip recalled. “She forced us to be pretty independent. If you wanted lunch at school, you made it.”

With her children grown, Halperin turned her energies to volunteerism and philanthropy. She served on Stanford’s board of trustees and funded the university’s art research efforts.

She also went into the grandma business, with eight grandchildren keeping her active.

“She wasn’t a sit-down-and-play-Legos grandmother,” Philip noted, “but was always asking questions. As a grandmother, what all of my kids took as an example is this concept of being a discoverer and always trying to know more. And she was so proud of them.”

Both enthusiastic travelers, the Halperins visited Israel several times. They also loved attending the symphony. And of course, she never missed the annual Big Game between Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, though she often had to turn her back on the action because she couldn’t take the suspense.

It was all part of a life devoted to art, love and community.

“To her core,” said her son, “she saw the value of appreciating, understanding and being engaged in art. Her famous quote was, ‘man does not live by engineering alone.'”

Ruth Halperin is survived by her husband, Robert Halperin of Atherton; sons Philip Halperin of San Francisco and Mark Halperin of Davis, daughter Peggy Halperin Dow of Atherton; sister Barbara “Timmy” Napolitano of Maryland; and eight grandchildren.

A public memorial service will be held 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10 at the Stanford Memorial Church. Donations in Ruth Halperin’s memory can be made to the Cantor Arts Center, 328 Lomita Drive, Stanford, CA 94305.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.