Recipient Biography

L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr.


L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr. (1919-2010) received the Pugsley Medal in 2006 in recognition of his contributions to parks and conservation which have taken three forms: advocacy through his proprietorship of Sunset magazine, leadership positions on a host of national and regional boards and advisory committees, and personal philanthropy. Lane was born and raised on a small farm in Des Moines, Iowa. His father was advertising director and personnel manager for the Meredith Publishing Company. Lane later reflected on the role of his childhood in stimulating his interest in conservation:

Your exposure as a child to nature and the out-of-doors is a big influence on your later life. My parents frequently took us camping when we lived in Des Moines and fishing in Minnesota. In retrospect, I recognize the influence it had on arousing my interest in conservation.

During the 1920s, Lane's father was a member of a team from Meredith involved in creating new company offices in the West and founding Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The family accompanied him on some of these trips which sometimes embraced visits to his grandfather, a retired president of Drake University, who lived in Los Angeles. Lane acquired early favorable impressions of California on these visits.

Lane's father wanted to operate his own publishing company and realized this ambition by purchasing Sunset magazine from the Southern Pacific Railroad in February, 1929. The railroad had launched the magazine in May 1898 and named it after the Sunset Limited Train. The feature article in its first issue was on the then eight-year-old Yosemite National Park. The cover featured the "setting sun" behind the bridgeless Golden Gate harbor. The railroad's goal with the magazine was to promote the West and it focused on the opportunities there in agriculture, business and tourism. The company built resort hotels such as the Del Monte in Monterey, the Tahoe Tavern, and others for people to stay in when they came West.

Purchase of Sunset required the Lane family to relocate to the Bay area in 1928. Lane's father had visited Yosemite with Mr. Meredith (who in addition to owning the publishing company had been secretary of agriculture in President Wilson's administration). Thus, among the family's first trips were a visit to the first California State Park at Big Basin in early 1929 and soon after, a trip to Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite trip involved boarding the Delta Queen (subsequently moved to the Mississippi River) which was a car ferry on the Sacramento River, driving to the Tahoe Tavern, then over Tioga Pass to stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite in the second year after it had been opened by NPS Director, Stephen Mather. Lane later recalled that this early trip, "left a significant impression, influencing my future involvement in working, volunteering and serving parks at all levels of government."

Lane's leadership qualities were nurtured early in life. He was president of the student body at both his grammar school and his high school. At the age of 16 he obtained his first summer job as a packer for a company based at Mineral King that had a contract with the Forest Service, which at that time had administrative responsibility for the area. He was a good horseman and had a good understanding of mules. His main task was to pack fingerling trout in milk churns strapped to mules. He planted them in virgin lakes around Mount Whitney in an era when there were no recognized trails in the area. On these lonely trail excursions he read extensively and was particularly influenced by the writings of John Muir. In this way, he quickly became familiar with the philosophy, history and evolution of the fledgling national parks movement.

After graduating from Palo Alto High School, Lane went to Pomona College. At high school, he had been active in drama, debate and speech, and went to Pomona to major in those subjects. Again, peers recognized his capacity for leadership when his social fraternity elected him president in his sophomore year which was an unprecedented accolade. These early school and college leadership roles stimulated his interest in government and public services.

He transferred to Stanford University to study journalism after his father expressed a desire that he prepare himself to joinSunset. Journalism appealed because Lane enjoyed writing and photography. Inevitably, he became manager of the Stanford paper The Stanford Chaparral. Meanwhile, in 1936 a fire at the family's Palo Alto home led to them purchasing Quail Hollow Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains where they raised cattle. Exposure to its peace and beauty further reinforced Lane's appreciation of the outdoors. In the 1990s after his parents' deaths, Lane donated the ranch so it became a Santa Cruz County Park.

When Lane's father purchased Sunset in 1928 it was ailing and he noted in a letter, "The Sunset deal, of course, is a gamble." He borrowed a substantial amount to acquire it, and soon after the transaction was consummated the 1929 stock market collapse occurred precipitating the Depression. These were difficult times for the Lane family. Bill Lane's first involvement with the business was selling Sunset magazine door-to-door in the early 1930s. Despite the economic climate, trips to the out-of-doors continued, although the emphasis was on camping rather than staying in hotels. Although discretionary income was scarce, Sunset circulation and advertising continued to grow because it focused on offering practical advice on how to adapt lifestyles to the changed conditions. Throughout their ownership ofSunset, the Lane family's intent was to vicariously expose people to all dimensions of the Western lifestyle. The goal was to assist families who owned their homes to enjoy their lives together.

His father's convictions about the importance of parks were expressed in a Sunset editorial written in 1932 in the depths of the Depression:

Have you been feeling a bit low, mentally and physically? The chances are that you merely need a tonic: The bracing, energizing stimulation of natural beauty. Whenever you live in this land of the Sunset [meaning the Western U.S.], you have not far to go to find the right medicine. Take Yosemite Valley, for example. There is a tonic for you, stout enough in its effect to carry you over many a rough place in the road for months after imbibing a drop of its beauty. True, it might well be listed as habit forming, but an addiction to mountains and waterfalls can scarcely be classified as deleterious.

Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lane graduated from Stanford, enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the first line officers training program at Harvard.  During his four years in the Navy in World War II, Lane served as a gunnery and communications officer on a troop transporter in the Pacific; as flag lieutenant and Aide to the Commandant of the 12th Naval District, San Francisco; and as a classified courier to Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor.

After serving in the war, he returned to San Francisco and with his brother, Mel, joined Lane Publishing Company. After brief stints in positions such as elevator operators and training in sales, circulation, production and book departments, the brothers rose quickly through the ranks, Bill in sales and Mel in production and business operations. In 1952, the operating management of the company was turned over to Mel and Bill by their father.

When he became publisher, Lane established Sunset as a forceful voice for strong environmental objectives, often taking a leadership role in advocating the creation of new national and state parks and preserving open space. Highlighting the beauty of the environment in the West was a central part of Sunset's appeal to readers and of great personal concern to Lane. Perhaps the magazine's most famous and influential stand occurred in 1969 when cueing off Rachel Carson's bookSilent Spring, Lane published an article "It's Time to Blow the Whistle on DDT," in which Sunset urged its readers to cease buying DDT immediately: "Sunset believes that we cannot afford to debate the question while using DDT any longer. The evidence against DDT as the cause of bird failure is such that we must agree with the biologists." In an accompanying editorial, Lane wrote:

After most careful consideration by both management and editorial staff, our decision is that Sunset will no longer accept advertising for products containing DDT, DDD Adrin, dreldrin, endrin and heptachlor. Sunsethas been carrying more such advertising than any other general consumer publication: but we cannot reasonably continue to carry advertising pages extolling these products when our editorial pages recommend against their use.

This principled stance cost Sunset many millions of dollars in lost advertising revenues and antagonized such major companies as Standard Oil which was the largest producer of these pesticides. Senator Gaylord Nelson inserted Sunset'sannouncement of this policy into the Congressional Record. The decision received widespread national coverage from print and broadcast media and inspired others to follow Sunset's lead. This publicity attracted widespread approbation and support both from readers and other advertisers which in the long-term compensated Sunset for its short-term losses.

This policy was the most visible manifestation of the company's enduring ethical integrity that was consistently exemplified by its refusal to accept advertising for products which the Lanes deemed to be undesirable. For example, the magazine's policy not to accept hard liquor was put in place by Lane's father in 1930 and followed in 1940 by bans on tobacco and beer products. During Bill Lane's tenure as publisher, over 30 categories of advertising were not accepted, including the American Rifle Association.

Always supportive of the West's natural wonders, Lane increasingly realized that using the great outdoors -- may it be in cities ("Wildlife Habitation on a Small City Lot," June 1979) or in the countryside ("Tin Can Clean-up in the Sierra," March 1961) -- required a fine balance of multiple use and preservation. The urban West and the West of tourism, adventure, and national parks changed the way people related to the landscape. Lane acknowledged this and the magazine was committed to protect the quality of the American West. Sunset supplied information, reported on solutions, and always kept a reasonably balanced, if biased in favor of conservation, viewpoint. Through such articles as "Which Park for Your Vacation?" (April 1931), "When is Yosemite Valley at Its Best?" (April 1956), or "How to Reach National Parks of the West without a Car?" (July 1979), Sunset provided entertainment and learning experiences, and publicized parks as tourist destinations with appropriate words and pictures. It promised its readers the beauty of the West as well as its mythology and romance.

The magazine's extensive readership (approximately 5 million) most of whom are in the West, and the relatively high socio-economic status of its readers, ensure that it has influence on environmental issues and decisions. There was a saying in the marketplace, "When Sunset comes out people take action." Ideas published and advocated by Sunset have been used by park and environmental planners, planning commissions, building inspectors, and other governmental agencies to benefit an even broader population than the millions of Sunset readers. This influence is further extended and reinforced by the over 900 Sunset book titles and editions which have been published, many focusing on conservation, environmental and park themes. The magazine's influence was recognized in 1990 by the CEO of Time magazine who, when his company purchased Lane Publishing, observed, "Lane Publishing is the preeminent publishing franchise in the country?s fastest growing market, the 13 western states."

Lane has served on the boards and advisory committees of numerous national and regional conservation groups including: American Land Conservancy, California State Parks Foundation, The Conservation Fund, National Parks Conservation Fund, Secretary of Interior's Advisory Board, Council on National Parks (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan administrations), California Desert Conservation Area, BLM (Ford, Carter, Reagan administrations), and the National Parks Centennial Commission (Nixon administration). He was chairman of the UNESCO Conference on the Environment in 1969 and delivered the keynote address, "Environmental Ethics: A National Need."

In addition to his parks and conservation roles, Lane has been on the boards of national and regional travel, tourism and economic development groups. He has worn "the environmental hat" on several corporate boards, including PG&E, California Water Service Company, and Crown Zellerbach.

Lane's military assignments in Hawaii and the Pacific in World War II led to a lifelong interest in the Pacific Rim countries. This complemented his knowledge and passion for the American West, and resulted in President Ford appointing him Ambassador-at-Large and Commissioner General of Japan in 1975. From 1985 to 1989 he served as Ambassador to Australia and Nauru under Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush.

His philanthropy to park and conservation causes has been extensive. Prominent among recent contributions were $1 million to the Peninsula Open Space Trust's, Saving the Endangered Coast Campaign in 2005, and $100,000 in 2003 to the California State Parks Foundation relief fund for state park employees whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Southern California Wildfires.

Lane has received over 20 awards for his contributions to parks and conservation, but perhaps those of which he is most proud are the California State Park Rangers Association's "Honorary California State Park Ranger" (1997) and the National Park Service's "Honorary Park Ranger" (1999).


Tomas Koehn, The Lane Family Defines a Vision of Western Living.