Judy and George Marcus, co-owners of Kokkari restaurant in San Francisco and Evvia in Palo Alto, are known for their decades of civic and philanthropic work, which have impacted everything from health and education to the arts. They have volunteered in various organizations together and independently over the past five decades. Together, the Los Altos Hills duo established the San Francisco State University International Center for the Arts and donated $25 million – the largest donation ever to the university – to create the George and Judy Marcus University. Hall for the Liberal and Creative Arts and the new home for the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts program in 2018.
George founded Marcus & Millichap, based in Palo Alto and today one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the world. He serves on the board of trustees of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the UCSF Foundation, the CSU Foundation, and the Georgetown School for Foreign Service and is an emeritus member of the board of trustees of the Library of Congress Trust Fund and the Corporation of Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. He is regent emeritus of the University of California and a former trustee of California State University.
Judy, who supported the family while George started his business, dedicated many years to community service, volunteering her time and talents to organizations such as Humane Society of Silicon Valley, Cristo Rey San Jose, Montalvo Arts Center, Breast Cancer Connections, Avenidas and Community Services Agency in Mountain View, where she served as president. Their home has been the site of countless fundraising events for non-profit organizations, as well as US presidential candidates and other political candidates. She graduated from San Francisco State with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.
The Weekly spoke to George and Judy about their volunteer work and the impact it has had on their lives and the community they live in. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
PAW: Looking back, what inspired you to first get involved in volunteering and philanthropy?
Judy: Growing up, I think my family was always involved in something – whether it was on holidays or at other times – to reach out to groups that needed extra help. I was a scout. We didn’t have much ourselves, but it was always important to give.
George: I think it starts if you are involved in religion. Religious organizations are organizations that make you think a bit about philanthropy and caring for anyone in need. I am Greek Orthodox. The Orthodox religion is very widespread and I served on the board of a (humanitarian aid) organization called International Orthodox Christian Charities. We would go abroad and try to help people through all these crisis situations, regardless of their ethnic origins or their religious traditions. It was a very rewarding thing for me.
PAW: Through philanthropic efforts and hands-on volunteer work, you have stepped up your efforts to make the community you call home a better place for everyone. What makes this area so special for you?
Judy: George and I came to this area because of its beauty and many amenities. Our community has blossomed into a place of creativity and innovation that is changing things around the world. It could almost compare to the golden age of Greece.
PAW: What kind of impact do you think your volunteer work has had on the community?
Judy: I think the best thing that can happen to a non-profit organization is to close its doors. We sometimes continue programs that have lost their usefulness. Things change in different communities, and we have to adapt to change. What was good for the community 30 years ago may not be good today. We did this with Families in Transition (a program to help immigrants and their families), which was in East Palo Alto before Ikea was built in 2003. (Through the) program, we started a cleaning women’s cooperative, had some women learn to drive, some do the cleaning and some watch the children. All the money was shared equally, and eventually the women went on and developed their own business. They were able to become independent. Many moved out as the community gentrified. The money we had left in the organization was split between the city’s Ecumenical Hunger Program and Eastside Prep.
PAW: What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteer work?
George: Try to do good and see the difference you can make in different organizations.
Judy: When I see changes in life, whether economic or educational, I know that the time spent was worth it. It’s good to support a variety of things — it’s a lot of fun for me — rather than just one area.
PAW: What advice do you have for others looking to volunteer or make a difference in their community?
George: When you volunteer, you need to be efficient and make sure you have goals. It doesn’t matter what type of charity it is, you really need to step up. Half of the goals are usually fundraising. You have to have people who are trained, you have to have financial capabilities, and everything has to be monitored to track your results. I’m a businessman, so I think in those terms all the time.
PAW: While owning restaurants, running a mega real estate company, raising a family, starting nonprofits, and volunteering, how did you manage to balance it all?
Judy: We can balance what we do because we prioritize, focus and invest time. We work on things separately, but we are a team.
Read more stories about this year’s Lifetimes of Achievement recipients:
• Gary and Jeff Dunker: From sharing meals to creating ghoulish delights, the couple aim to bring joy to young and old
• Annette Glackopf: Veteran organizer sits on 19 boards, unites residents and neighborhoods
• Barbara Gros: She has spent her career bringing businesses and nonprofits together
• The Doris Hazzard Cordell: She opened door after door for generations behind her