Robert Cullenbine, born May 28, 1938, was one of the Merry Pranksters and a Cordinator at Midpeninsula Free University (MFU).
Robert "Bob" "Cully" "Papa Elf" Cullenbine was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Yale and Washington University prior to moving in 1958 to Palo Alto, California. He served in the U.S. Army and then attended Stanford University where he earned a BA in Economics. He was a Vietnam-era, anti-war activist and a community organizer with the Midpeninsula Free University, serving as the MFU’s Coordinator (President) in 1969.
Bob was also a fan of the Stanford Women’s basketball team. In 1997, he attended a boring panel discussion on homophobia in sports—a panel held as part of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association annual conference. The panelists were mostly bland because they didn’t want to be identified as lesbians or supporters of lesbians. One panelist, who had already lost her job because of her lesbianism, did speak of a lesbian who had contemplated suicide after coming out to hostile parents, and another who had been assaulted by teenage boys after leaving a bar in Manhattan. When members of the audience suggested that lesbians would not be welcome on their campuses, Bob challenged them. Bob suggested that restrictive recruiting and hiring undercuts competitiveness.
If you don't have any lesbians on your team, he said, tweaking the resisters,
you'll never win a national championship.
In 1998 he left his career in real estate to devote full-time to The Family Giving Tree, a charity founded by his daughter Jennifer. He served as the organization's CFO and Development Director, and retired in 2008. That year, he founded Children First Focus, a non-profit serving children internationally. He is a former Board Member of The Association of Fundraising Professionals, Silicon Valley Chapter. Cullenbine served in Missouri as one of presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama's Deputy Field Organizers during the 2008 campaign.
Cullenbine was one of 135 candidates who ran for California governor in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election. He really, really, really didn’t want anyone to vote for him.
"The truth is, right here on this block, there are four individuals that are more qualified than I am to be governor, and one of them is a dog," Cullenbine, then 65, quipped.
Despite being a leader, in the late '60s and early '70s, of the iconoclastic Midpeninsula Free University (which offered classes on everything from naked candle-making to organizing riots), Cullenbine has lived a quiet, mostly suburban life for the last 20 years.
But the recall—which he described as
super-right-wing politics designed to interfere with the governing of the United States—prompted his return to the public spotlight, he told a reporter while sitting in his home office on Ramona Avenue this week.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever do anything remotely political again, I would have simply said, 'No,' he said. Bob received 632 votes.
On July 28, 2018, Bob passed peacefully at home in Sunnyvale at the age of 80. He leaves to cherish his memory and continue the storytelling: daughter Jennifer (Dan) Pietrasik of Milpitas, grandchildren Connor, and Kinsey, daughter Donji (George McDonald) Cullenbine of San Jose, grandchildren Alex and Jesslynn and son Che (Barbara) Cullenbine, grandchildren Roarke and Boston. He is also survived by his life partner of 27 years, Carole Ryan and her daughter Shannon (Marcelo Pando) Ryan, grandchildren Sofia, Sebastian and Gabriel, and her son Sean (Yana) Ryan and her granddaughter Aurora.
Running to Stand Still, by Bill D’Agostino, Palo Alto Weekly Online Edition, August 22, 2003. Link
Robert Stephens Cullenbine, 1938–2018, San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo Times, August 3, 2018; online at Legacy.com. Link
Cherishing Life as a Healthy Grandfather, Annual Report 2002–2003, Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Link
Robert Cullenbine, Wikipedia. Link
Another Case of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, by Gwen Knapp, San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1997. Link
Santa Would Be Proud of this Elf, by Heather Knight, SF Gate, November 23, 2001. Link
Family Giving Tree, familygivingtree.org. Link