When a search committee led by Frank Lodato Jr. recruited a newcomer to coach Cardinal football in 1977, Lodato confided to his son Doug, '76, "I've either found the best football coach in the country and no one knows it yet, or I've been completely snowed."
Turned out his instincts were right. The new head coach was Bill Walsh, who would win three bowl games in his first three years at Stanford and four Super Bowls after joining the San Francisco 49ers.
Lodato, whose service to Stanford went well beyond bringing Walsh to the Farm, died July 24 in Menlo Park of a rare form of lung cancer. He was 73.
Known as the definitive team player and "idea man," Lodato sat on Stanford's board of trustees, athletic board and hospital board, co-founded both the Center for Economic Policy Research and the Humanities and Sciences Forum, and launched the Cardinal Club to support women's athletics after the passage of Title IX in 1972. But his proudest achievement, he said, was establishing the DAPER Investment Fund on behalf of Stanford's athletic program. The fund has grown from $300,000 to $40 million since its creation in 1982.
The athletic board honored him in 1987 with its Outstanding Service Award, which now bears his name. In 1988, Lodato received the Gold Spike Award, the University's highest honor for fund-raising service. Today, Walsh describes him as "the very essence, the very symbol of Stanford and its athletic program."
The son of an Italian immigrant railroad worker, Lodato grew up in San Mateo during the Depression. In 1944, at age 17, he enlisted in the Air Force; by age 19, he was a first sergeant in the Asia Occupation Forces. He attended Stanford on the GI bill, earning a BA in economics and a master's in education before launching his career in venture capital.
Lodato's public service extended beyond campus. In the 1960s, he headed a task force to strengthen East Palo Alto's economy. He served on and chaired the Central Coastal Conservation Commission in the 1970s. An Eagle Scout, he directed the San Mateo Boy Scouts Council for many years.
Lodato is survived by his wife, Dorothy; three sons, Thomas, Douglas and Mark; his daughter, Jane; two stepdaughters, Lori Thomas and Karen Easton; and eight grandchildren.