Building for the Future of Our Community

In every sense, Joseph and Meri Ehrlich were pillars of the Bay Area community. Long regarded as one of the pioneering Silicon Valley architects, Joe Ehrlich designed the Hewlett-Packard headquarters and other advanced-technology facilities. He will be remembered as an innovator in the industry—for creating buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound. But his greatest legacy is what he built with Meri: a family and a community.

Although both are deceased—Joe died in September 2010, Meri in March 2011—their legacy of helping others remains a powerful testament to their caring and generous spirit. Now, thanks to their significant bequest to JFCS, they will positively touch many more lives: those in need of the agency’s services.

“My parents were very civic-minded people who were concerned about others,” says son Jeff Ehrlich. “They were involved in Palo Alto politics. My father ran for city council, and my mother was active in many campaigns, including efforts to ban housing discrimination.”

In addition to their involvement in public issues, the Ehrlichs for many years worked behind-the-scenes to ensure the well-being of many friends and loved ones. “They were generous, but completely unassuming,” says Jeff. “When my father talked about his work, he used to say, ‘I’m not in it for the glory.’”

Perhaps the Ehrlichs’ only demonstration of pride was their display of love for each other. Theirs was a whirlwind romance. They met at a camp in Upstate New York run by the Workmen’s Circle, a Jewish fraternal society, at which Meri had a summer job, and they married three weeks later. Jeff says that their partnership grew stronger as the years passed. “Though they had many friends,” he says, “they were pretty content just being with each other most of the time.”

The Ehrlichs made almost every important decision together, including how they wished to express themselves philanthropically. For almost 25 years, Joe and Meri made gifts to JFCS.  Though not observant Jews, the couple had a strong attachment to Jewish culture. “My mother spoke Yiddish and was proud of it,” says Jeff.

Having grown up in poor immigrant families in New York in the 1930s, the Ehrlichs were also keenly aware of what it was like to live without—and their charitable giving was informed by their early experiences. “The Depression always loomed large in their consciousness,” Jeff says.

Jeff is grateful for the values that his parents instilled—“I can’t believe my luck that they were my mom and dad,” he says—and hopes to follow in their footsteps.
(published in JFCS Generations newsletter summer 2012)