The common slang for accountant is “bean-counter.” That term never fit Donald Seiler. The Silicon Valley CPA and longtime Jewish community activist liked to say of his vocation, “We serve people, not numbers.”
With his passing, many people will miss Seiler’s sure and steady counsel in the years ahead. Don Seiler died of cancer on Aug. 3 at his Atherton home. He was 83.
Some of his more prestigious posts in the Jewish world included president of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, co-founder of Congre-gation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, and board member of the Jewish Home of San Francisco and the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.
But his good works extended beyond the Jewish community. He also established the Donald H. and Ruth F. Seiler Chair in Public Accounting at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and served on the boards of both the Peninsula Community Foundation and the Stanford University Medical Center.
“He wanted to make the community a better place,” said his son, Richard Seiler. “He advised a lot of people. The reason he was so good at it was that he really cared.”
“He always felt it was important to give back to the community, help those in need and to inspire others,” added his daughter, Carol Seiler Roberts of Menlo Park. “He was a numbers man and a people person.”
A San Francisco native, Seiler showed initiative early on as a student athlete and in the scouting movement. He earned an accounting degree and then an MBA from U.C. Berkeley before launching his accounting career in 1950.
A few years after that, he opened his own firm, Seiler & Co., first in San Carlos and today with offices in Redwood City and San Francisco. His firm became one of the most successful in the Silicon Valley area.
He never took credit for anticipating the high-tech boom. As he told the Palo Alto Weekly in 2009, “My wife Ruth was raised in San Jose and I’m from San Francisco. We chose the Peninsula for a very scientific reason — it was in the middle. I’d never heard of Silicon Valley.”
Seiler’s children remember a father for whom “family was everything,” according to his daughter. “My mom meant everything. He was always there for everyone.”
Though he gained much personal satisfaction from family travels, rooting for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and playing tennis, he got just as much out of volunteering, especially for Jewish communal organizations.
In 1968, he was instrumental in the construction of the magnificent sanctuary and social hall at his synagogue, Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. He also sat on the synagogue’s board and served as president.
Starting in the early 1970s, he became active with the federation as board member, endowment committee chair and president.
Wayne Feinstein, who served as federation campaign director and also as CEO when Seiler presided, remembered his friend as “always straightforward, very down to earth.”
“As I got to know him,” Feinstein recalled, “he was always analytical of problems people would otherwise get emotional about. Don never lost his temper, even when things were extremely aggravating. He was the classic wise man, and played that role in a lot of settings.”
Feinstein also recalled Seiler’s first federation mission to Israel. “He was a Zionist and concerned about Israel,” he said. “[The trip] had a lasting impact on him.”
Other boards he sat on included the North Peninsula JCC in Foster City and San Francisco’s Mount Zion Medical Center. In his retirement years, construction of the Taube Koret Campus in Palo Alto became a passion as well. He sat on its board in 2003, helping to see that project through to fruition.
“He was not one that wanted a lot of publicity,” said his brother, Stuart Seiler. “He did things quietly, but he did it because he believed in it. Not for the kudos. He was very low-key about that.”
Seiler remained active all his life, rising early to check the markets, traveling, attending sporting events and playing tennis regularly until last year. “He was very athletic,” Stuart Seiler said. “I was never able to beat him.”
Though his final illness claimed his life, it cannot diminish a lifetime of good works.
“If you’ve done well, there’s an obligation to give back,” Seiler told Palo Alto Weekly in 2009. “It does good things, makes you feel good about yourself.”
Don Seiler is survived by his wife, Ruth Seiler of Atherton; daughter, Carol Seiler Roberts of Menlo Park; son, Richard Seiler of Atherton; brother, Stuart Seiler of San Francisco; and four grandchildren. Donations may be made to a favorite charity.