Bennett Lyon Raffin, S.F. philanthropist, dies at 84

Bennett Lyon Raffin of San Francisco died on May 2 after a series of long illnesses. He was 84.

Raffin was born in Terra Haute, Ind., in 1918. He came to San Francisco as a young man, when his father moved west for business reasons.

He attended Galileo High School, and followed his father into engineering and construction. During one summer vacation, he worked as a laborer in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, while his father oversaw the concrete work.

In 1938, he got a degree in engineering from Stanford University, and in 1940 he married Caroline Meyer, a fourth-generation San Franciscan. They were married for 60 years, until her death in 2000.

As a co-founder of Rothschild & Raffin Construction Co., he built the Frank Lloyd Wright Marin Civic Center, worked on eight local hospitals and built parts of several U.C. campuses, including Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz.

After the death of his partner, he merged his firm with Swinerton & Walberg.

In addition to serving on the board of Emanu-El, he served on the boards of the former Mount Zion Hospital and the Jewish Welfare Fund, a predecessor of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, as well as Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford and the Hearing Society for the Bay Area.

He and his wife were longtime supporters of the JCF, with Raffin heading the construction committee and the Business and Professionals Division, as well as its Jewish Community Endowment Fund, where they began the Raffin Family Supporting Foundation.

"I am looking to help people directly," said Raffin, at the time. "I want to see the impact in people's lives, particularly young children and the elderly."

Phyllis Cook, executive director of the JCEF, described Raffin as "very warm and thoughtful."

Pearce of Emanu-El called him both soft-spoken and humble.

"Whenever you'd ask him a question, he'd say, 'I don't know much about that, but I do know this and this and this,'" said Pearce, "and gave you a lot of information about it anyway."

Raffin's sons described him as "a model of integrity, commitment and kindness, always searching to do the right thing," as well as a mensch.

Raffin is survived by a sister, Elizabeth Raffin Eisenbach of Los Angeles; two sons, Thomas of Los Altos Hills and Steven of Granite Bay; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Donations in his memory can be made to the Hearing Society for the Bay Area, 870 Market St., S.F., CA, 94102, or the Nature Conservancy, 201 Mission St., S.F., CA 94105.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."