The Riddells: A Tradition of Giving Back

Growing up in the heart of Illinois farmland during the Great Depression, Kay Riddell was raised with a love of the land, and values of giving to those in need. When she and her husband Bob Riddell, a theoretical physicist, moved across the country to Berkeley, their joint appreciation of the land only grew.

“Land is the most important thing,” Kay explained, “You can never replace it.” The Riddells’ dedication to caring for the earth and preserving open spaces was a part of their professional and family lives. Bob Riddell led the revitalization of the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, and the family made camping trips to hike the Sierras nearly every year. Their children grew up with the same love of the outdoors and dutiful, hard-working values of their parents.

“There came a point when we wanted to do more,” Kay explained. Kay and Bob were considering opening a private foundation, when they were introduced to The San Francisco Foundation. The Riddells were drawn to the ease of the Foundation managing the administrative details and the access to the deep expertise in community that the Foundation offered, and decided to open a fund.

Kay and her children, Jim and Cindy who also advise on the fund, worked closely with Shona Carter, their donor relations officer, to understand what Kay wanted to achieve with her giving, and to help her make a meaningful investment. “It’s very rewarding to work closely with Kay and her family,” said Shona, “Her humility coupled with her desire to make a difference within her lifetime is reflected in her children who are equally passionate about environmental programs.”

Shona introduced Kay to Environment Program Officer Francesca Vietor to learn about which groups are doing the best work in environmental education and preservation, and how to make the biggest impact with their dollars. Francesca went in-depth with Kay, providing insights in the field, and coordinating site visits at organizations that matched her passion.

The Riddells raised their children with an appreciation of the land, and over the years their giving has focused on ensuring that all youth get the opportunity to develop a deep connection with the outdoors through parks, trails, and oceans. Today, Kay, her children and grandchildren travel back to the Bay Area from across the country to visit organizations that the family is funding.

“You have to leave the earth a better place than you arrived.” This simple adage is a thread that runs through the Riddell family, and continues on with Kay’s children, and grandchildren.