ForeverMissed
Chris Thollaug passed away at his home in Montara on October 7th, 2020. He was 70 years old.

Due to COVID-19, a gathering to celebrate Chris’s life will take place when such events are safe.

In the meantime, please share memories and photographs here on this site - click on "stories" at the top of the page to add your memory, or on "gallery" to add a photograph.

Finally, Dad believed passionately in environmental preservation, in the equality of all people, and in peace. Those who wish to honor his memory may make a donation in his name to the American Friends Service Committee, the National Parks Foundation, or the Sierra Club.
Posted by Susan Kelley on October 21, 2020
We met Chris, Suzie, Julie and Katrina in 1994. Our lab had just died and they were getting a pup from the Pintels. We put our name on the list and got Abe the following June. That was the beginning of our friendship. Chris and labs just went together.           A couple of years ago I was visiting Montara after having moved to the mountains permanently and Chris gave me two jars of honey. He wanted to know what I thought about them. One was from August and the other September. First of all it was the best honey ever. Distinctive flavors for each month. It was so interesting to talk to him about the whole process.             In 2008 Christ was campaigning for Obama in Reno. He stayed at our house about an hour from Reno and went in every day to face the opposition. I believe Obama won because of Chris.       He was brilliant, enthusiastic and joyful about life.  He loved our yellow labs as if they were his own. We are better off for having known him.  Love to you Suzie, Julia and Katrina. We will see you when it is safe to do so. Susan  
Posted by Grant Weiss on October 21, 2020
Chris was a friend of mine, and a true friend of the Coastside environment. I met him through the Tunnel campaign, and remember his tireless efforts, carrying file boxes full of paperwork to every meeting. When Julia broke her arm he came rushing in to the ER, took one look at her and fainted, ending up on the gurney next to her. We laughed about that for years. When I was peremptorily dismissed from the ER, Chris was the one who led the email and letter campaign which got me reinstated. A true gentleman, humor and personality, warmth and strength. I am devastated to hear of his passing, and send my love and hugs to Suzanne, Julia and Katrina. May his memory be a blessing, and may your grief soon be replaced by only happy memories of a husband and father who led a truly meaningful life.
Posted by Michael Perna on October 20, 2020
Chris was a great man. He was a man of integrity and humanity beyond what seems possible in these times. 

I knew him through good times and bad for over 30 years, and he was always the same open-hearted citizen of the world no matter what the circumstances. A twinkle of bemusement rarely disappeared from his demeanor, as he repeatedly and energetically launched himself into his many interests, occupations and passions. He could be very serious about many things, but lacked the capacity to take himself too seriously.

Chris had an exceptionally good life, much of it due to the sustaining love of Suzanne, Julia and Katrina. We know there are a lot of fine things to come that Chris did not live to see, and no doubt his family will feel that loss forever. But, good god, what he did with time he had would be enough to fill several lifetimes of creativity, commitment and accomplishment. 

I was blessed to have been his friend. 

Michael Perna
Posted by Victor Pintel on October 17, 2020
It had to be around 1988 when Chris and Suzie and the girls came to the Cow Palace to meet labrador retriever breeders. That is where we first met this wonderful man and his wonderful family. We knew immediately that we wanted them to have one of our pups, and that is how Reba came into their lives and how our friendship began. After Reba and over the years Samantha, Penny and Lucy entered their lives. Our relationship stayed strong; Diana and I realized a long held dream to visit them in Montara, and it was so worth the wait. A beautiful location for a beautiful family. My endearing memory goes way back to '88 when this fun loving family met us at the old Nut Tree to pick up Reba. They all squeezed in to the family Subaru loaded with camping gear. Years later they showed up at our house in the same vehicle, still squeezed in! Such a gentle soul. RIP, Chris
Posted by Robert Buelteman on October 17, 2020
It isn't often the you meet a genuine kindred spirit. Chris's dedication to the environment and our human community had no peer. As someone who has used his art in support of land preservation, I found my friendship with Chris to be enlightening. Seeing his willingness to mix it up, to attend meetings, to speak truth to power, reminded me of what real courage looks like. Our conversations were wonderful, including those during his convalescence in which he challenged me and enlarged my world. There won't be another like him, and he will be missed.
Posted by Cynthia Wall on October 16, 2020
I met my “little brother” in 1975, same time as I connected with Suzanne in grad school. He was already an adult: owning property, working in non-profit land, an avid naturalist and photographer. And a mean cribbage player. We “got” each other pretty quickly, and I knew that here was someone who would always have my back. And also a mensch who could admit when he was wrong (not often). We trusted each other with our lives, and our hearts and families. I’ll embrace him until the day I die, hoping I will be able to hug him when I go. Surely there is no COVID in heaven!! Miss your humor, smarts, and dedication to what is good and right. And bees. Love forever, Auntie Cynthia

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Posted by Susan Kelley on October 21, 2020
We met Chris, Suzie, Julie and Katrina in 1994. Our lab had just died and they were getting a pup from the Pintels. We put our name on the list and got Abe the following June. That was the beginning of our friendship. Chris and labs just went together.           A couple of years ago I was visiting Montara after having moved to the mountains permanently and Chris gave me two jars of honey. He wanted to know what I thought about them. One was from August and the other September. First of all it was the best honey ever. Distinctive flavors for each month. It was so interesting to talk to him about the whole process.             In 2008 Christ was campaigning for Obama in Reno. He stayed at our house about an hour from Reno and went in every day to face the opposition. I believe Obama won because of Chris.       He was brilliant, enthusiastic and joyful about life.  He loved our yellow labs as if they were his own. We are better off for having known him.  Love to you Suzie, Julia and Katrina. We will see you when it is safe to do so. Susan  
Posted by Grant Weiss on October 21, 2020
Chris was a friend of mine, and a true friend of the Coastside environment. I met him through the Tunnel campaign, and remember his tireless efforts, carrying file boxes full of paperwork to every meeting. When Julia broke her arm he came rushing in to the ER, took one look at her and fainted, ending up on the gurney next to her. We laughed about that for years. When I was peremptorily dismissed from the ER, Chris was the one who led the email and letter campaign which got me reinstated. A true gentleman, humor and personality, warmth and strength. I am devastated to hear of his passing, and send my love and hugs to Suzanne, Julia and Katrina. May his memory be a blessing, and may your grief soon be replaced by only happy memories of a husband and father who led a truly meaningful life.
Posted by Michael Perna on October 20, 2020
Chris was a great man. He was a man of integrity and humanity beyond what seems possible in these times. 

I knew him through good times and bad for over 30 years, and he was always the same open-hearted citizen of the world no matter what the circumstances. A twinkle of bemusement rarely disappeared from his demeanor, as he repeatedly and energetically launched himself into his many interests, occupations and passions. He could be very serious about many things, but lacked the capacity to take himself too seriously.

Chris had an exceptionally good life, much of it due to the sustaining love of Suzanne, Julia and Katrina. We know there are a lot of fine things to come that Chris did not live to see, and no doubt his family will feel that loss forever. But, good god, what he did with time he had would be enough to fill several lifetimes of creativity, commitment and accomplishment. 

I was blessed to have been his friend. 

Michael Perna
his Life

Obituary

Chris grew up in El Cerrito and attended a Quaker boarding school in Nevada City, California. After being drafted in 1971, Chris attained Conscientious Objector status and completed his alternative service with Planned Parenthood, where he started out delivering contraception to all Bay Area locations. On weekends, he played handball with the residents of San Quentin or backpacked the remote Sierra Nevada wilderness. Chris attempted to thru-hike Pacific Crest Trail in 1977 – but was foiled after 500 miles by an unexpected May blizzard in the high Sierra.

Chris continued to work at Planned Parenthood for several years before completing his MBA at Golden Gate University. He was hired immediately by Xerox, but over time became frustrated with the ethos of Corporate America and quit to start his own reprographics firm in fledging Silicon Valley. After selling his company, Chris worked for the national Sierra Club where he restructured finances, labor models, and administration in order to lower overhead. As a result of his work, the Club was empowered to direct more resources toward environmental protection campaigns nationwide. This type of work would become the defining commodity of his career working with tech startups, institutions of higher education, and non-profits over the next 25 years.

After moving to Montara in 1991, Chris left the Sierra Club to serve as chairman of the Tunnel Initiative and, later, Measure T. He was instrumental in stopping CalTrans’s proposed bypass from scarring Montara Mountain and fundamentally altering the landscape and population of the Coastside. He also served for many years on the boards of the Montara Water and Sanitary District and Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside – which earned him the superhero moniker “Sewer Man” from his young daughters. In 2008, Chris moved to Reno, Nevada temporarily to serve as a precinct leader for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and helped to win that state for our first black president.

Chris and his wife, Suzanne Stephanik, raised two children and four dogs in the back of Montara, adjacent to what is now part of the GGNRA. His passion for the outdoors took Chris to 30+ national parks as well as countless state parks, national wilderness areas, and national forests. By example, and through many camping trips, he passed a love of wild lands and an ethos emphasizing environmental preservation to his daughters.

In retirement, Chris discovered a love of beekeeping and devoted himself to his “girls”. His belief in cooperative labor solutions was cemented by his observations of the bees, who seamlessly work together for the good of all. Chris continued to hike Montara Mountain regularly – at increasingly fast clips – to take in the beauty of the natural world. Fellow regulars on the mountain would often spot him, jars of honey in hand for friends and strangers alike, marching to the summit with his faithful yellow Labradors.

Like the Quakers who educated him, Chris believed passionately in working for just causes, in the equality of all people, and in peace. Those who wish to honor his memory may make a donation in his name to the American Friends Service Committee, the National Parks Foundation, or the Sierra Club.

Digest of HMB Review Articles

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Recent stories

Dad Lesson #1: Appreciating Assets

Shared by Julia Thollaug on October 20, 2020
My dad, the radical feminist, firmly believed that his daughters would grow up to be power players and leaders of men. As such, he saw no reason to go easy on us - particularly when there was a lesson to learn.

My sister and I used to play epic, multi-day marathons of Monopoly with Dad. Trained in the ways of finance, he would use his knowledge to become the real estate tycoon that he would have fought tirelessly to prevent the development of the beautiful marsh that used to be Mediterranean Avenue. He was also fiercely competitive and saw no reason to allow his young girls to get ahead - or, perhaps he was preparing us for a work environment where our male colleagues would get a head start and play for keeps. Either way, he was nearly impossible to beat. Eventually, we refused to play with him anymore - but not before he imparted upon me the importance of choosing appreciating assets.

As a small child, I found the railroads in Monopoly to be most excellent. The more you have, the more each one will yield when an unsuspecting opponent lands on one of them. One memorable game, I successfully traded a single property to Dad to complete my collection of railroads - and secured him the ultimate monopoly of Park Place and Broadway. I didn't know it at that moment, but my fate was sealed.

Dad knew, though. He proceeded to build multiple hotels on both properties, progressively robbing me of all my assets as I landed on the squares repeatedly. When I finally went bankrupt, frustrated and grouchy, he asked:

"Do you understand why you lost?"

I literally couldn't care less - but Dad proceeded to explain to me how his properties would keep getting more valuable over time, while my railroads wouldn't, so my railroads weren't a good strategic investment. I was so angry at him. He known he would beat me for hours, and he still did it. I stomped away and made him clean up.

But - now I know that you should buy things that get more valuable over time. Thanks, Dad.

We have greatly benefited from his conservation efforts...

Shared by Linda Rutherford on October 18, 2020
My husband and I live across from what is now land managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There had been a plan to build private homes at this location at the north end of Montara. As a well-connected, hard-working conservation advocate, Chris worked to preserve this land for wildlife and for public enjoyment.

We greatly appreciate his involvement in preserving this space. And I am sure that the deer, owls, hawks, rabbits, butterflies, mountain lions, and other wildlife, appreciate it as well. The areas here and in other parts of this new park are now criss-crossed with well-worn hiking trails.

We will miss seeing Chris on our daily walks on the old Pedro Mountain Road. We would stop to chat with him. Chris will be missed by many. While he is gone, he left our community with a gift of the improvements that he helped to make.

Chris will be missed.

Shared by Bill Bechtell on October 18, 2020
I first met Chris in the early 1990's while involved with a local environmental group opposed to the Devil's Slide Bypass proposed by Caltrans.  Chris was instrumental in getting us the assistance of the Sierra Club to block that project.  In 1995 he also helped me organize a committee of geologists and engineers that proposed the tunnel alternative to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. We remained friends ever since, often meeting up on our walks on the Old San Pedro Mountain road, and several hikes to the top of the mountain.

Thank you Chris, for your years of civic mindedness, friendship, and many contributions to our coastside community.