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The Eatons' home in Nob Hill, San Francisco

Germaine and Benjamin Eaton, '42, bequeathed their elegant San Francisco home to Stanford to benefit medical research. PHOTO: Katie Githens

A Landmark Gift on Nob Hill

Spring 2012

When they moved into a historic townhouse in San Francisco's Nob Hill, Germaine and Benjamin Eaton, '42, knew they had found the perfect home. The four-level house at 843 Mason Street had a rich history: It was designed in 1917 by Willis Polk, the architect for the city’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Its location was likewise illustrious, right across the street from the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel. The Eatons took full advantage of their elegant residence, entertaining frequently.

Germaine and Benjamin EatonAfter decades of living on Mason Street, the couple made a major decision: to make a bequest of their beloved home to Stanford, Ben's alma mater. After his death in 2001 and Germaine's passing in 2010, Stanford received the property, then valued at $2.75 million. The Eatons' bequest will allow the dean of the School of Medicine to support any field of medical research, a flexible arrangement that magnifies the value of their gift.

When their daughter Carol Eaton-Preston learned of her parents' bequest, she knew it would be tough letting go of this great house and its memories. But she quickly supported their plan, knowing how strongly they felt about sharing their good fortune with others. "It was a wonderful gesture, to give something back to the university that gave them so much," Eaton-Preston says. "They just felt it was the right thing to do."

Stanford left a lasting impression on Ben Eaton. "He made some of the best friends of his whole life at Stanford—and kept them," says Eaton-Preston. Born in 1920 in Denver, Eaton studied social science and social thought at Stanford and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He took up golf, a lifelong pursuit, and became a Stanford football fan and athletics booster.

Before Eaton launched his career, World War II intervened, and he served as an Air Force ordnance officer, active at bases in India and Guam. Upon his return, he took a job at the Dean Witter brokerage's San Marino office, run by his father. Eaton worked his way up, moving to Los Angeles, then San Francisco, where he served as executive vice president.

Friends recall Eaton as a man of principle. "He had very high personal integrity, and he politely required that of all he was associated with," says friend and colleague John Wells. "You always knew where you stood with Ben."

Eaton also enjoyed a good party, and it was at one fateful gathering that he met his wife. The daughter of Belgian immigrants, Germaine Beaulieu graduated from the University of Vermont before becoming a New York-based model. In 1946, she was sent on assignment to Pasadena, where a friend invited her to a fundraiser for congressional candidate Richard Nixon. Ben Eaton was there, too. "He took one look at her and that was it," says his daughter.

There was one hitch: Eaton was wearing his grandfather's wedding ring on his right hand, and Germaine thought he was married. "I’m not taking up with a married man," she told her friend, who responded: "What’s wrong with you? He’s the most eligible bachelor around!"

Their marriage would span 54 years, during which time the couple shared interests in community causes, travel, and golf. And they shared a love of giving, symbolized in their bequest to Stanford—a gesture that will, in turn, touch many other lives.