Green was a regular audience member at the center’s performances, enjoying the music for nearly a decade. He served on the center’s board with Birdsall.
“The music center has turned into something that is pretty magical,” she said.
The Greens also made contributions to the Santa Rosa Symphony and its youth orchestras, the Santa Rosa Children’s Choir and the Sonoma County Humane Society.
“Don was a man who, though usually the smartest person in the room, listened more than he talked,” Worth said. “He encouraged and enabled more than he commanded. He was a dynamic leader but understood that leaders need to keep in touch with what it’s like to follow. ”
Growing up in wartime Liverpool
Green came from working- and middle-class roots. A redhead with sensitive skin, he was born in Liverpool in 1931, the son of a father who toiled in the coal mines from the age of 13 and a mother whose family worked as coal merchants.
When World War II started, Green was evacuated to a farm to keep him safe from Nazi bombings. But after his mother visited and sized up the situation, she brought the young boy home after just six weeks.
“She said, ‘You’re coming home with me, and if we die in this war, we die together,” Birdsall recalled. “He spent the entire war on the docks of Liverpool.”
Although he didn’t go to school during the war, Green was always interested in learning and fascinated by telephones and radios. After marrying his sweetheart, the former Maureen Eustace, he studied for his engineering degree at night while working at the British Post Office. The couple had a son and a daughter, then made plans to go abroad.
“His ambition was always to leave England, but he wanted to have his degree in hand first,” Birdsall said. “Six weeks after I was born, Dad emigrated to Montreal, with a letter of introduction in his pocket.”
After working for six months for Standard Telephone Cables, he earned enough to bring his family to Canada in October 1956. But a few years later, the family was on the move again, this time to San Francisco. The young family traveled to Buffalo, New York, before driving across the United States.
“That was a pretty big moment in their lives,” Birdsall said. “I think they were instant Californians. This is 1960, and there’s folk music, wine and this wonderful, creative culture.”
In San Francisco, Green started working at Lynch Communications as a design engineer and, within seven years, he became vice president of engineering. Two more children, Duncan and Victoria, joined the family.
In 1968, Green left Lynch to start up Digital Telephone Systems in Novato, staying on through two acquisitions and retiring at age 55. But retirement was really not his thing.
“He stayed retired for about three weeks, then came up with the idea of Optilink, a fiber-optics company,” Birdsall said. “Then he started Advanced Fibre Communications.”
When that company went public in 1996, Green owned stock and options in AFC that were worth $137 million by 1997.
“When you are a CEO of companies, the best way you can measure your success is by the market, and it was an immense success,” Birdsall said. “It brought a lot of wealth to people who were part of the company.”
That paved the way for the couple’s $10 million donation to the Green Music Center, which at the time, ranked as the biggest gift in California State University history.
AFC also owned 500,000 shares of networking startup Cerent Corp., which was purchased by Cisco Systems in 1999 for $6.8 billion in what is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a closely held technology company.
“The transaction instantly created 30 new millionaires,” Green wrote in his memoir.
Technology business pioneer
While he was synonymous with the music center, Green also left a lasting imprint and contribution to Sonoma County business and industry through his pioneering work in technology innovation.
In its heyday of the late 1990s, Petaluma’s Telecom Valley was comprised of 60 or 70 little tech companies employing about 5,000 people. These entrepreneurial ventures were laying the groundwork — literally the cable lines — for the modern high-speed internet.
Green’s Optilink was “the seed” and, from it, there was a “huge explosion of mental resources,” said Webley, who now runs Trevi Systems, a water purification tech company in Rohnert Park. Webley also was a financial contributor to construction of Green Music Center.
Webley and Stanfield are examples of Green’s many colleagues who went on to start their own tech companies. And Green often became an investor, board member or both in those enterprises. Stanfield now runs Tibit Communications in Petaluma, maker of a device that fits in the palm of a hand and enables high-speed digital connections to homes, businesses and cellular towers.