Donald W. Carlson
July 18,1932 - February 20, 2017
Donald W. Carlson was born in Santa Rosa, CA in 1932. A lifelong Bay Area resident, Don (as he was known to his friends and family) grew up in San Francisco and graduated from Lowell High School in 1950.
He enrolled at Stanford University in the fall of 1950 on an athletic scholarship, where he excelled in football, basketball, and track and field, and was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. Don interrupted his college career and spent several years serving with the US Army at Fort Ord, CA as well as in France. He later received his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1958 and an MBA from Armstrong College in 1959, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in 1986 and John F. Kennedy University in 1988.
After graduating in 1959, Don worked as a community center director for the recreation department in Berkeley, CA and began selling life insurance with Prudential Insurance Company of America to supplement his income. A natural salesman who took a genuine interest in his customers and loved meeting new people, often over a meal, Don went on to co-found Consolidated Capital Companies with Daniel Blumberg, George Croom, and Marvin Levin. The Companies became a leading real estate investment firm in the 1970s and 1980s. A noted public speaker with a booming voice to match his 6-foot-5-inch frame, Don also enjoyed delivering motivational seminars across the US.
Don met his wife Barbara Anna Baker on a fraternity/sorority blind date in 1952. They married in 1957 and raised three beautiful children, Kathleen, Richard, and Anna, in Piedmont, CA. Barbara, an accomplished artist, environmentalist, and long-distance runner shared Don's active, energetic lifestyle. He had an enormous love for sports and was a voracious reader with eclectic interests. A lifelong Democrat with many Republican friends, he was politically active and campaigned and raised funds for politicians including Jerry Brown and Dianne Feinstein.
In 1983, Don and Barbara formed their charitable foundation, the ARK Foundation, which was dedicated to advancing world peace. In its early years, during the Cold War, the foundation's international funding initiatives focused on easing tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. Later, the foundation shifted its attention to supporting local social service programs, including Girls Inc. of Alameda County and the Boys & Girls Club. Don was also a leading member of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a nonpartisan group that seeks to apply best business practices to address our nation's most pressing security challenges. Coming from humble beginnings, Don made his fortune only to give most of it away. Always one to root for the underdog, he never hesitated to offer a helping hand, especially to those who were downtrodden and less fortunate. His gratitude and his love of life continued until his last breath.
Don passed away peacefully on February 20 at the age of 84 surrounded by family and friends. He was preceded in death by his loving wife of 57 years, Barbara Carlson, and his son, Dr. Richard Carlson. Dr. Carlson was the best-selling author of 30 books including "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," which was influenced by his father. Don is survived by his loving daughters Kathleen Carlson Mowris of Squaw Valley, CA and Anna L. Carlson of La Selva Beach, CA and daughter-in-law, Kristine Carlson of Lafayette, CA. He is survived as well by his six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He will be missed greatly by an army of those who were privileged enough to know him.
A private memorial service was held in Lafayette, CA. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to Girls Inc. of Alameda County, 510 16th Street, Oakland, CA 94612.