Marian Kirkpatrick Staver

Opera benefactor’s ‘greatest passion’ was music

By Blanca Gonzalez June 1, 20092 AM

A deep love of music led Marian Kirkpatrick Staver to become a generous and longtime supporter of the San Diego Opera, underwriting new compositions and hosting fundraisers at her Del Mar home where guests could ride a miniature train around her beautiful gardens.

Mrs. Staver was known as an accomplished pianist, who also played a pipe organ she had installed in the family home. “Tosca” and “The Magic Flute” were among her favorite operas, and she enjoyed playing Chopin and Bach.

“Music was her greatest passion, and she wanted to share it with others,” said Ann Campbell, director of strategic planning for the San Diego Opera. “She wanted to bring the inspiration that music gave her to everyone in the community.”

Mrs. Staver died May 19 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at her Del Mar home. She was 86.

Longtime friend Nancy Petersen of La Jolla said Mrs. Staver’s interest in music began in her childhood and continued in college, where she studied under renowned music professor Jan Popper.

“She played the piano and organ beautifully; she could have played professionally,” Petersen said. “She was a warm, loving person who was brilliant. … She studied philosophy at Stanford. I always felt very much in awe of her.”

Campbell said Mrs. Staver and her husband, Ralph, were longtime opera supporters, with Mr. Staver serving as a board member and Mrs. Staver leading many Opera Guild events.

Mrs. Staver helped kick-start a new fundraising campaign in 1992.

“She was one of the very first donors when we started our Opera Stars campaign,” Campbell said, referring to the deferred-giving program that includes bequests. “She said, ‘Well, somebody’s got to be the first olive out of the jar; I guess it might as well be me.’ ”

The Stavers also offered the use of their private Torrey Pines Pacific Railroad for parties and fundraising events. Mr. Staver, a train enthusiast, built his own miniature steam train running on 2,000 feet of track.

The train, which could carry several people at once, traveled through a maze of bridges and tunnels on the Stavers’ property.

Mrs. Staver was a former president of the Wednesday Club and a member of PEO Sisterhood, a women’s philanthropic organization. She also was a supporter of the Timkin Museum and San Diego Hospice.

“She was a wonderful human being and very generous,” said friend Elizabeth “Libby” Carson. “She donated a beautiful Steinway piano to the Wednesday Club, and was always very generous with her beautiful home.”

She was born Jan. 22, 1923, in Los Angeles to John Lawrence Kirkpatrick and Francesca Chandler Kirkpatrick. Mrs. Staver was a granddaughter of Harry Chandler, the late publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

She grew up in Los Angeles, spending summers at the Goodan Ranch near Poway with the family of her aunt, May Chandler Goodan.

She earned a philosophy degree in 1945 from Stanford University, where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi.

She married Ralph Staver in 1948, and the couple moved to the San Diego area in 1949. They lived in Los Angeles for a few years before settling permanently in Del Mar in 1964.

Mrs. Staver is survived by four sons, Dan and Tom, both of Encinitas, John of Jacksonville, Ore., and Larry of Portland, Ore; one daughter, Ann Irwin of Solana Beach; 13 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. She was predeceased by her husband and a son, James.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at Mrs. Staver’s Del Mar home.

Blanca Gonzalez: (760) 737-7576;