In 1981, when Ploughshares Fund founder Sally Lilienthal gathered her friends together in her San Francisco living room to address the looming crisis of the Cold War, William Matson Roth was there. For forty years, he and his wife, Joan Osborn Roth enjoyed their dear friend Sally’s gatherings, where poetry and art vied with politics and the fate of the world as the evening’s conversational topics.
Bill, who passed away in 2014, was a founding board member of Ploughshares Fund and longtime advisor to Sally. He knew that nuclear weapons are one of the greatest threats to humanity. Both Bill and Joan shared with Sally the belief in a world where cooperation between nations is driven by respect for international law and diplomacy, rather than by fear of annihilation.
Bill worked for many years as an executive with the Matson shipping lines that his grandfather founded. He also served as US Trade Representative under President Johnson, assisted in the development of San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, ran for California governor in 1974, openly opposed the Vietnam War, and pointedly criticized the educational policies of fellow UC regent Governor Ronald Reagan.
Joan, who passed away in 2019, was an ardent photographer, with a focused passion on nature, trees and foliage. She was also a talented writer; her final project Dog Tales chronicled the stories of the dogs in her life. Together Bill and Joan shared a deep interest in art, literature and music, and were dedicated conservationists who donated 450 acres of land to form the Fairfield Osborn preserve just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County.
Bill and Joan were pioneers, in business, philanthropy, conservation and the arts.
“Besides concern for nuclear disarmament, Bill and Joan shared with Sally a love of art and an eye for the art world’s next best thing,” Bill’s grandson Will McCauley said. Both Sally and Bill served on the board of directors of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “They both had an eye for great artists before the artists were well known,” he said. “That’s why there’s a Ruth Osawa fountain at Ghirardelli Square.”
Ploughshares Fund is honored to list William Matson Roth and Joan Osborn Roth as members of our Nuclear-Free Legacy Society. With their generous bequest of $500,000 they will forever remain advocates for a world free of nuclear weapons. Their gift will advance our mission for years to come.