Donald Fisher, co-founder of Gap Inc. dies at age 81

Donald G. Fisher — who co-founded clothing retailer Gap Inc. and went on to become a philanthropist, charter school advocate and art collector — died Sunday at his San Francisco home after a long battle with cancer. He was 81.

Fisher’s death came two days after he found a home at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for his personal collection of some 1,100 works by many of the 20th century’s most well-known artists. The collection had become the subject of intense debate in The City when, in 2007, Fisher proposed building a 100,000-square-foot museum in the Presidio to house the pieces. He withdrew the plan in July.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said flags would be flown at half-staff to honor Fisher.

“Don Fisher was a great San Franciscan, a loving husband and father, and a dear friend. His unwavering commitment to our city’s arts and civic culture will be remembered for generations to come,” Newsom said in a statement.

“It’s a huge loss for the arts community in San Francisco, to be sure. But it’s a loss across the board for the philanthropic community, as well as the business world,” said P.J. Johnston, president of the San Francisco Arts Commission.

After struggling to find jeans that fit, Fisher and his wife opened their first store in 1969 in San Francisco, selling pants and music. The store took its name from the idea of the “generation gap,” and the simple style that became the brand’s trademark resonated with shoppers and took off quickly.

A former real estate developer with no previous retail experience, Fisher thought they could expand to as many as 10 stores. But Gap grew to be one of the nation’s largest specialty retailers, with more than 3,000 stores in more than 25 countries. Gap Inc. also operates the Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta brands and reported sales of $14.5 billion in its 2008 fiscal year.

“Today we lost a friend, a mentor and a great visionary,” Glenn Murphy, CEO and chairman of Gap Inc., said in a statement. “Don and Doris took a simple idea and turned it into a brand recognized as a cultural icon throughout the world and changed the face of retail forever.”

Don Fisher was active in the United Way, Teach for America and other educational efforts. The Fishers gave $15 million in 2000 to create the KIPP Foundation, a national network of free, open enrollment, college preparatory public schools for students in underserved communities. Dr. Sandra Hernández, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, the community foundation of the Bay Area, called Fisher “a generous and complex man.”

“He cared deeply about children and understood the importance of high-quality education. He has built a legacy that will profoundly influence school reform for years to come,” she said.

Fisher is survived by his wife, Doris, their three sons and 10 grandchildren. He’s also survived by two brothers and their wives, Jim and Diane Fisher and Bob and Ann Fisher.

Life of a local legend

A short biography of Don Fisher.

1969 Don and Doris Fisher open first Gap store

1976 Gap Inc. becomes a publicly traded company

1977 Gap Foundation formed  to help underserved communities

1995 Fisher steps down as Gap Inc. CEO

2000 Don and Doris Fisher pledge $15 million to create the KIPP Foundation of K-12 schools

2004 Fisher steps down as Gap Inc. chairman

2007 Fisher proposes housing his private art collection in a new museum in the Presidio

April Following objections from the community, the museum plan is scaled down

July Fisher family withdraws Presidio museum proposal

Sept. 25 Fisher announces that his art collection will be housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Sept. 27 Fisher dies at 81 after a battle with cancer

Sources: Gap Inc., Examiner staff reports

The Associated Press contributed to this report
tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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