Chris Roden, 84, led a rich, inspiring life and he will be dearly missed by his loving family, his loyal friends and his many admirers. Chris will be remembered for his warm charm, humor, intellect, positive attitude and his great love of jokes, puzzles, hiking and traveling the world.
Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1922, Chris was a very bright young man who won a scholarship to the prestigious Cranbrook School for Boys in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. After graduating with honors, he then earned a full engineering scholarship to M.LT. in Boston, MA. where he received his Bachelor degree. During WWII, he served as a Navy Ensign and then Chris' father, Carl, died in 1945. After the war, Chris worked for Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan for one year. Chris was then accepted to both Harvard and Stanford for graduate school bur chose Stanford because both he and his younger sister Mavis (Jeri) really wanted to move to California. Mavis moved to L.A., married Rob and gave birth to son, Dave. Chris moved to Palo Alto where he received his M.B.A. from Stanford University. Chris' mother, Vera, moved out to California one year later to be near her children. (Vera died in 1967.)
While at Stanford, Chris met and married dietician, Emma Shepherd in 1950. Together they had two children, Debi and Kirk. In the early 50's, Chris accepted an agency and then management position with State Farm Insurance with offices in Berkeley and then Albany, CA. He lived with his family in Orinda for 16 years. Emma and Chris divorced in 1973. (Emma died in 1988.) From his daughter, Debi, and her husband, Erol, Chris had one beloved grandson, Erik Christian, now 15 years old.
In 1974, Chris married his second wife, playwright, Elizabeth B. Brewer (Betsy) and moved back to Palo Alto where he opened his State Farm office on Waverley. Chris became step-father to Betsy's four children: Andrew, Bridget, Erica and Judith. (Judith died in 2003.) Chris also had four beautiful step-grandchildren: Caitlin, Erin, Augie and Zavier. In 1987, Chris retired from State Farm after 35 years, but he still remained close to his State Farm family. Chris and Betsy were married for 33 wonderful years.
Over the years, Chris was very involved in the community. He was an active member of: The Fellowship Forum, the Commonwealth Club, The Palo Alto Condominium Homeowner's Assoc., Mensa and Wilderness Travel. He also volunteered his time, teaching automobile safety to seniors through AARP's "55 Alive" program.
Traveling was Chris' favorite pastime and he had literally seen the world by trekking to all 7 continents. Yearly, Chris and Betsy visited Grafton, Vt. to see the autumn foliage. Other favorite destinations were: Hawaii, to visit Mavis, Carmel, Boston, N.Y.C., plus Washington D.C., and Santa Barbara to visit Betsy's brothers. Even at the age of 78, Chris hiked through the Himalayas in Nepal with his son, Kirk. (At one point he accidentally hiked ahead of the sherpa!)
Chris died on Monday April 16, 2007 at EI Camino Hospital of complications from Myasthe- nia Gravis, a rare auto-immune disease. A Memorial Service was held at The First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto on Saturday May 19 at 2:00 p.m. at 1140 Cowper St., between University Ave. and Embarcadero Rd. in Palo Alto, CA. 94301. In honor of Chris, donations may be made to The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America 800-541-5454 or myasthenia.org.
It is an honor to be asked to help pay tribute to a truly remarkable man -- a man who enriched every life he touched -- those of his family, his many friends, his business associates and clients, and so many others.
I was fortunate to be among those hundreds of people, having known Chris primarily through membership in a Palo Alto organization known as the Fellowship Forum.
The Forum was formed in 1950, not long after a group of Palo Alto businessmen began meeting for weekly luncheons. In time they developed a speakers' program and began inviting Stanford faculty to join the organization. Formal By-laws, Parliamentary Procedures, Roberts Rules of Order, and precise job descriptions of course soon followed.
The Forum still meets weekly, made up mainly of fifty-five retirees from area businesses, medicine, education and other fields who enjoy each other's company.
It was into this congenial, well-regulated environment that Chris Roden strode in 1992, five years after his retirement from the State Farm Insurance Company.
I use the verb "strode" advisedly, for this tall, lean, astute man had spent his life taking very long strides. He effortlessly spanned vast distances, both geographically and intellectually.
And he excelled at every step -- from his modest boyhood in Illinois
to full scholarships and honors at Cranbrook School, MIT and Stanford ---
to his service as a Naval officer, to his highly- successful business career
--- to his admission into a society that accepts only the top 2% of the
takers of standardized intelligence tests. (The latter refers to Mensa,
not the Fellowship Forum.)
And as you've heard and read, Chris thrived on hikes, rambles, treks and expeditions of all kinds. He ranged the world. He walked five to ten miles a day in this area. He explored the Sierra, the Alps, the Andes and the Himalayas. He followed the Silk Road into China, setting a pace that would have left Marco Polo panting.
It was inevitable that Chris would quickly scale to the top of the Fellowship Forum, some 27 feet above sea level in Palo Alto. He became the chair of the Program Committee and was elected president in 1998. He later served on the Membership and Nominating committees.
Chris could be counted upon at every level for his calm, sound decisions. He was marvelously well organized and served with dignity, humor and wisdom. He possessed a quiet charm that he never exploited.
Chris loved the weekly gatherings of the Forum, and we loved him. One of my fondest memories is that of arriving at the lounge near our meeting room prior to our meals. Chris -- always an early arrival -- would sit near the head of a table, informally presiding. He would warmly greet each member by name.
Well-read, well-bred and well-travelled, he was the perfect luncheon companion.
And when a speaker finished his or her talk each week, we all looked forward to the moment when Chris would slowly rise and ask a question that drove to the heart of the issue at hand. He was ever curious, always perceptive, never confrontational.
When Chris lay in his bed at the El Camino Hospital in April, a little more than a week before his passing, the Fellowship Forum secretary sent him a get-well card signed by the members. Typically enough, Chris found a way to respond with a carefully-printed note, his lines running level and clear.
He wrote that he appreciated the good wishes that had been extended, and he expressed the hope that he would soon be undergoing rehabilitation exercises. Care at the hospital had been fine, he said, but "I must admit --- going home sounds very, very fine.."
He concluded: "Perhaps soon I will be able to go home and become an active member --- not only of the Fellowship, but also of the world." He underlined "the world."
He missed the world --- and the world badly misses him.
For a week after his passing, Chris' voice remained on the Roden home message machine. I called twice, just to hear that firm, clear, strong, voice once again. "We are not available at this time," he said. "Please leave a message."
Well, Chris, our message is this: We respected
you, we admired you, we treasured you. We are grateful for all that you
brought to our lives. We will remember you far into the future.