Clifford Chapman, local philanthropist and arts patron, has died

slinn@thetribunenews.comJune 15, 2012 

Clifford Chapman, whose seaside home in Shell Beach inspired paintings and hosted numerous fundraisers through the years, passed away at age 82.

Chapman, a major philanthropist supporting the arts, died in his sleep.

“It’s a big change in the community and a big loss,” said Sandi Sigurdson, former executive director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony and now executive director of Leadership San Luis Obispo. “I just kind of assumed he’d live forever.”

Born in Guadalupe, Chapman was a Navy veteran who studied electronic engineering at Cal Poly, a school that would largely benefit from Chapman’s philanthropy. In the 1950s, Chapman was hired on as a janitor at Marshalls Jewelers in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The store, founded by Azores immigrant Manuel Marshall in 1889, had been passed on to Manuel and Mabel’s only child, Art Marshall. Art and Bernice Marshall, who never had children, sold the business to Chapman in the early 1960s. Around that time, Chapman met his longtime partner Don Shidler, a former librarian with the Santa Maria School District.

“My husband and I have been married for 25 years, and I look at Cliff and Don and their devotion and their kindness (and think,) ‘I want a relationship like that for 50 years,’ ” Sigurdson said.

Chapman owned Marshalls for 40 years before selling the business to one of his employees, Jeff McKeegan, upon his retirement in 1993.

After that, Chapman devoted much of his time to arts groups such as Festival Mozaic, the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, Opera San Luis Obispo and the San Luis Obispo Symphony, as well as the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.

“I’m available to help people who are less fortunate than I am,” he told The Tribune in 1996. “We’re an old Spanish family that still believes in hospitality.”

He and Shidler were also frequent patrons of the arts.

“He and Don (were) always the first ones out of their seats,” said Patty Thayer, communications director at the SLO Symphony, who said Chapman supported the symphony for more than 50 years. “They would always pop out of their seats (and applaud) as soon as the music ended.”

Known to run three to five miles a day on the beach near his home — “He was such a fiend for his 5 a.m. run,” Sigurdson said — Chapman was selected to carry the Olympic torch through San Luis Obispo in 1996.

Meanwhile, he and Shidler frequently held fundraisers at their home, known as the Chapman House and noted for its trademark windmill, neatly manicured lawn and stunning ocean views. One of those fundraisers was Afternoon of Epicurean Delights, an annual fundraiser for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County that recently marked 25 years.

In 2000, Chapman was honored with the Cal Poly President’s Award. Two years later, he and Shidler bequeathed a $4 million estate to the university for the establishment of three endowments, including $2 million to strengthen Cal Poly’s music, theater and dance programs.

“The thing that keeps the planet happy is a glass of wine,” he said at the time. “The thing that keeps the planet sane is the arts.”

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