Founding campus leader Hal Hyde dies at 97

Hyde was a pioneering figure in the history of higher education in Santa Cruz County

Hal Hyde, UC Santa Cruz's first vice chancellor of business and finance, during a 2011 interview on campus in advance of being bestowed with the Fiat Lux Award.
hal hyde with ucsc staff members
Hyde, first row, first from the right, with UC Santa Cruz staff colleagues in the early years of the campus.
hal hyde 1960s
An undated photo of Hyde from the mid-1960s.

Harold A. (Hal) Hyde, who, as the first vice chancellor for business and finance at the University of California, Santa Cruz, helped create a world-class campus on a sprawling cattle ranch, died peacefully of natural causes Oct. 12, 2020 at age 97.

Founding Chancellor Dean McHenry first tapped Hyde for some consulting work in the early 1960s, then asked him to join his staff in 1964 and be responsible for all non-academic aspects of the new university. “And that’s how I got involved, and the rest is history,” Hyde chuckled in a 2011 video interview.

Pioneering figure in education

Hyde was a pioneering figure in the history of higher education in Santa Cruz County in the 20th century. He was largely responsible for bringing Cabrillo College to the county and served on its board as a trustee for 23 years. He established the initial infrastructure of UC Santa Cruz and, after retiring in 1975, continued to be a devoted friend and advocate for the campus and the county.

“It is not an overstatement to say that Santa Cruz County is the cultural and intellectual hub it is today in large part because of Hal, shaped by his commitment to and vision for the place his family has called home for generations,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive.

Deep knowledge of Santa Cruz County

Hyde had a deep knowledge of the county, from South County to the North Coast, and his involvement in civic matters spanned nearly a century. Born in 1923, he was a fifth-generation Santa Cruz County resident with ties to both Watsonville, where he was born, and Santa Cruz, where his father was born. He also helped found two university support groups, served as the first president of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and as a trustee of the UCSC Foundation, and helped start the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County and the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.

As the first vice chancellor of business and finance, Hyde oversaw construction of UCSC’s first colleges, residence halls, and administrative buildings, and the siting of campus roads. He also hired key staff.
“Hal was instrumental in planning the campus in a way that accentuates its physical beauty,” said Chancellor Emeritus George Blumenthal, who arrived at UCSC in 1972, seven years after the campus opened. “He oversaw construction of the campus's first classrooms, its first colleges, and its first library, thereby putting his imprint on the campus that was to come.”

As Hyde once put it: "It was Dean McHenry's show, but we had a lot to do to carry it out.”

Jerry Walters, one of his early hires, remembers trying to find housing for the first Cowell students in 1965. “Hal had me looking into bringing the Delta Queen paddle wheeler down from Sacramento, or checking out Navy ships, which were mothballed in the Bay Area, to see if one could come and be attached to the wharf to house students,” Walters said.

Problem solver

“He was a problem solver, ready to help anyone on the campus, open to new concepts, creative, able to delegate to others to pull a project together and always available if someone needed help,” said Walters who remained friends with Hyde for more than 50 years.

“He loved to tell the story of how he hired me, a young man who came to his interview right after work, still in his Army uniform, not knowing that Hal was a general in the Army reserves,” said Walters who stayed for 36 years.

Hyde held the vice chancellor position from 1964 to 1975, when the campus grew from zero students and some decaying ranch buildings to an enrollment of 5,600 students with modern classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, playing fields, performing arts theaters, and administrative buildings, including those for Lick Observatory. "It was a major challenge on a beautiful site," said Hyde.

Daughter Marilyn Hyde remembers her parents hosting prospective faculty and staff at their Corralitos home in the early days of the campus because no other facilities were available. She also recalls visiting the campus on four-wheel-drive Jeeps as there were no roads.

'A father figure'

“He just became a father figure of Santa Cruz,” said former U.S. Rep. Sam Farr in comments when Hyde was awarded the UC Santa Cruz Fiat Lux Award in 2011. Farr recalls his own father Fred Farr working with Hyde to locate the new UC campus in Santa Cruz.

“Hal Hyde is a class act. He knew how to get across the message and say this is what the university will do for you,” said county Supervisor Bruce McPherson in comments in advance of the Fiat Lux. McPherson, whose family owned the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper until the 1980s, remembers Hyde coming into the paper’s office frequently in the ‘60s to line up editorial support for the campus from McPherson’s father, the paper’s publisher.

He has provided “an opportunity for thousands of people—students and older people—to get into the higher education system, whether it be the community college or UCSC,” McPherson said.

Berkeley years

Hyde, an only child, moved from Watsonville to Berkeley with his mother and grandmother after his father was killed in a car accident when Hyde was just a young boy. He later described the move as a change of scenery and a chance to be close to supportive relatives.

He became an Eagle Scout, skied at Badger Pass, and graduated from University High School in Oakland in 1941.

Hyde soon enrolled at UC Berkeley but his studies were interrupted by war. “I was studying for my first final, Zoology 10, on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the world changed,” he recalled for an oral history with the University Library. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Reserves in October 1942. He was discharged as a captain after seeing combat in Europe, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, and re-enrolled at UC Berkeley, where he graduated in 1947. "I guess I'm an 'Old Blue,'" he once said. "If you stuck me, I'd probably bleed blue and gold." Hyde stayed in the Army Reserves for many years, retiring as a brigadier general.

Marriage and an MBA

Graduate school soon followed at the Harvard Business School as did a romance with Persis (Perky) Horner of San Francisco. He studied marketing and retailing, hoping to help his maternal grandfather’s family business, the Charles Ford Company department store, back in Watsonville. He received an MBA and also proposed to Perky. They were married in August 1949 and raised four children. Perky Hyde died in 2001.

In 1951, after working briefly for a San Francisco department store, family members and associates persuaded Hyde to return to Watsonville to join the Charles Ford Company.

There he thrived as a store executive and became involved in local Watsonville and Santa Cruz County civic affairs including the effort to open a community college in the county.

Cabrillo College

Cabrillo College opened in 1961 and “the county really coalesced together, and accepted it as their school, their campus, their higher education facility, in a way that had not been seen before, and still exists today, with great support,” Hyde said in his oral history. “The Cabrillo success was the first significant expression of total county commitment and support. I still have great pride in having been part of that team of trustees, officers, faculty, staff, and advisory committees of this enterprise.”

Sights soon turned to a UC campus on the Central Coast, and Hyde became a member of an organizing committee. In an oft-told story, in the summer of 1960 the UC Regents campus siting committee looked at two possible locations, Cowell Ranch in Santa Cruz and another in Santa Clara County’s Almaden Valley.

A magnificent site

They first visited Santa Cruz and took in the expansive view from the Great Meadow, a cool breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean. Then they got back into an-air conditioned bus for a trip over the hill to the Almaden site. After transferring to two smaller buses without A/C, they stepped out into a very hot July afternoon to look at the valley site.

“And,” as Hyde would say, “the rest is history.”

Hyde leaves wife Dottie of Corralitos; daughters Christine, of Hollister, and Marilyn, of Watsonville; and sons Douglas, of Massachusetts, and Tony, of Novato.