From the Oral History Center Director:
Paul “Pete” Bancroft, III, a 1951 graduate of Yale, a pioneer in venture capital, and the eldest great-grandson of Bancroft Library founder Hubert Howe Bancroft, died peacefully in his sleep on January 3, 2019, at the age of 88.
We at The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center are extremely grateful for his support of over the years. The word “support,” however, is wholly inadequate to capture what he did for oral history at Berkeley. Pete Bancroft was, in fact, its greatest single benefactor in the 65-year history of our office.
Pete’s first major engagement with the Oral History Center (or, as we were known at the time, the Regional Oral History Office) began around 2007 with discussions about a possible oral history project documenting the history of venture capital in the Bay Area. Not only did Pete step forward to sponsor the project, he played a critical role in helping to articulate the major themes and issues to be covered in the interviews. He also created an advisory committee of scholars and leaders in the field that gave the project instant credibility and served on that committee; and he reached out personally to many of the key players whom we wished to interview, setting forth the goals of the project and convincing those who might have been reluctant to participate. Sally Hughes, who was the project director and interviewer for these oral histories, wrote to me upon learning of Pete’s death: “As the interviewer for the Center’s venture capital project, I could not have asked for a better sponsor in organizing, completely funding, and advising the project every step of the way. In his warm and supportive manner, he made it clear that we were a partnership in trying to create the best possible series of interviews on the foundational era of venture capital. It was a subject dear to his heart as one of its early participants.” When completed, the project resulted in 19 lengthy oral history interviews with the pioneers of venture capital, including Franklin “Pitch” Johnson, Art Rock, Reid Dennis, Tom Perkins, Don Lucas, Don Valentine, Bill Draper, Bill Bowes, and Pete himself. In addition, Pete facilitated the donation of another group of interviews already conducted by the National Venture Capital Association. Pete Bancroft played a crucial role in creating this “must read” resource for anyone interested in the history of venture capital.
The years around the financial crisis of 2008 were difficult ones for this office. In addition to waning donations and external support, several retirements left us greatly understaffed. For the few of us remaining, myself included, there was a nervously voiced worry that the fifty-plus year tradition of oral history at Berkeley might be reaching an end. In the wake of these worries, Pete was conspiring behind the scenes to make certain that oral history would continue at Berkeley. He was a good friend of long-time Bancroft Library director Charles Faulhaber. When Faulhaber retired in 2011, Pete paid tribute to his friend’s leadership of Bancroft by creating the Charles B. Faulhaber Endowment, whose income was to be dedicated to the oral history program. Pete had only one request: that the name of the office be changed. Happily, the staff of the center recognized that we had long ago outgrown the “regional” in our former name and readily embraced the new moniker of the “Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.”
Other than the name change, Pete asked for nothing in return for creating the Faulhaber endowment, which was built with his donations and those of many of his friends and venture capital colleagues. This endowment has been critical to the recent success of this office. Because only one of eight full-time staff positions, and none of the related costs of conducting interviews (equipment, transcription, travel), is paid for by the university, all of our projects require external funding. However, project funds can only support project-related activities and there is a lot more that we do — and want to do — than just conducting interviews, transcribing them, and editing them. Pete Bancroft’s “Charles Faulhaber Endowment” allows the Oral History Center to do so much more: we can host formal and informal training for those who want to learn oral history methodology from our highly-skilled team of historians; we can now create interpretative materials based on the interviews that we conduct, including, now, three seasons of our in-depth podcast series, “The Berkeley Remix”; and, perhaps most importantly, the Faulhaber endowment allows us to conduct research and development in support of new projects. We are fortunate to have a smart, ambitious, and creative group of oral historians who come up with potentially important project ideas; this endowment gives us the ability to pursue those ideas by doing background research, conducting pilot interviews, and seeking funding to make these ideas a reality. Thus, Pete Bancroft continued his career in venture capital with the Oral History Center: by providing perpetual seed funding, he has established a lasting legacy of innovation, experimentation, and entrepreneurship among the publicly-engaged scholars at the center!
In his final months of life, Pete Bancroft continued to think about and look after his friends, including the Oral History Center. Charles Faulhaber, returning the honor given to him by Pete, created the “Pete Bancroft Endowment for the Oral History Center,” with an initial gift from Pitch Johnson and additional gifts from many of the same philanthropists who supported the earlier one as well as his ‘Hill Billies’ campmates at the Bohemian Club. And like the Faulhaber endowment, this one will support the ongoing work on the Oral History Center. In a touching note just after Pete’s passing, Faulhaber let me know that Pete was thinking of us until the end, making a major donation to the endowment in the final weeks of his life. With this news, we sadly bid farewell to an esteemed and gracious benefactor — our angel investor.
Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center