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Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.M. Twain

David William Hettig, a leading estate planning attorney, outdoor adventurer, pilot, human rights advocate and a driving force in the establishment of the East Palo Alto YMCA, passed away suddenly on June 29 while working out at the Page Mill YMCA, leaving family and friends with a profound sense shock and loss.  He had just turned 70.

David was fiercely independent, yet was thought of by all whom he touched as their best friend, compassionate confidant and supporter. He was happiest flying in his plane, tumbling from a raft into a muddy river, sharing in scotch tastings with the guys, or helping family and friends through difficult times through the generous giving heart which he shared openly.

Professionally, David was an expert in trusts, estates, and charitable gift planning who served leading members of the Silicon Valley community among his clients.  He began practicing in 1977 and operated his own firm in Palo Alto and Menlo Park for decades before joining Lakin Spears as a partner in 2007. 

In his community, David spearheaded the fundraising effort for the successful establishment of a new YMCA in East Palo Alto.  He served on the YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula Board and was the 1998 recipient of the YMCA Distinguished Service Award.  He also worked with the late-Ginetta Sagan, founder of Amnesty International West Coast, to establish the Aurora Foundation for human rights.  In addition to serving as a co-founder, board member and secretary of the Aurora Foundation, he carried out international missions including secreting funds into Poland to support the families of political prisoners.  He was among the distinguished guests invited to the Clinton White House to see Ms. Sagan receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.

Born in Utah, David spent the early part of his life in Colorado where he learned to love the mountains, rivers and the outdoors.  He was an avid hiker who trekked through the Himalayas in Nepal.  He white-water rafted rivers of the American west, including the Colorado in the Grand Canyon and the Tatshenshini in Alaska.  He was among the first to descend the upper reaches of Mekong and Salween rivers in China and Tibet, enhancing his growing interest in Tibetan culture. 

Inspired by his uncle who was a pilot in World War II, David learned to fly and found every excuse to be in the air.  A nice summer afternoon led to a sunset tour of the San Francisco Bay.  A desire to see migrating birds occasioned a quick flight to the Sacramento River delta.  He flew to the Grand Canyon, the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, Death Valley and made the Ashland Shakespeare Festival a regular trip.  

A graduate of Stanford University in 1965, David remained an active member of the Stanford Alumni Association.  He was an attorney advisor for Stanford’s Office of Planned Giving and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.  He earned an M.A. in History at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1966 and pursued a Ph.D. in History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before deciding to attend law school at the University of San Francisco where he graduated in 1976.

He is survived by his wife, Nan Hettig of Menlo Park; his brother, Richard Hettig of Melbourne, Australia; niece, Carolyn Hewitt of Olympia, Washington; nephew, Gerald Hewitt of Berkeley; and cousins, Bill Speckart of Walnut Creek and George Speckart of Irving, Texas.  He was predeceased by his parents, T. David Hettig and Florence Hettig; his sister, Lee Hewitt, and nephew, Christopher Hewitt.

A celebration of David's life will be held Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston Rd. in Palo Alto.  Please join us to remember the man and the great times we all shared with him.

Please feel free to share your memories of David on this site, as well as photos (go to the Gallery and click "Submit a photo." Add them to an album, or at the main level and the site manager will organize them.   

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations can be made in David's name to the East Palo Alto Family YMCA at or to Canopy at, which will plant a tree in David's memory.


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