Pepperdine University Benefactor Dies at 108

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Herbert V. Nootbaar

Herbert V. Nootbaar, a centenarian and namesake of the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics at the Pepperdine School of Law, died in December at the age of 108. His memorial service is Wednesday, Jan. 11, in Laguna Beach, where he lived.

Influential in Malibu through his generous endowment to the Pepperdine community, Nootbaar also lived a fascinating life, traveling around the world — 126 countries, by his count — and meeting some of the most influential people in America.

Born on Nov. 8, 1908, in Chicago, Ill., Nootbaar and his family relocated to California in 1920. An interview with Nootbaar published in a 2014 edition of the OC Register describes his young adulthood in Los Angeles — “They made their home in Eagle Rock, and Nootbaar went to work driving a cement truck at the age of 12. He got 15 cents an hour — ‘premium pay,’ he joked.”

He later found work at his grandparents’ orange grove, located at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood.

Upon graduation from Glendale Union High School, he began working for a company that produced cereals and commercial animal feeds. From there, he climbed the corporate ladder, eventually going on to lead the company and later start his own business.

As with all centenarians, Nootbaar was asked (three years ago, at age 105) what the secret to his long and successful life was.

“It’s a simple recipe,” he told the OC Register “And the recipe is to pick a good wife and then love and respect her and encourage her love of you.”

Nootbaar and his wife Elinor first donated $6 million to the school in 2007 to establish the institute — and later gave another $4 million to further its goals.

“I wish everyone could have the gift of Herb Nootbaar in their lives, but-sadly-there is only one Herb Nootbaar,” Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton said in a statement provided by the school. “He was one of God’s originals. Tall and dignified, witty beyond comparison, and blessed with the ability to maintain friendships around the world, to say that he was my friend sounds like bragging, but I am proud to say it was the truth. He traveled the world on behalf of California and America, encouraged humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union at a crucial moment, was a booster of business enterprise and loved all who came within his embrace. I don’t believe Herb ever met a stranger. To know him was to love him and to admire him deeply.”

Among his admirers were former first couples Ronald and Nancy Reagan and George and Laura Bush, as well as U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

In 2014, the Register interviewed Nootbaar as he prepared to accept the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, by their description “an honor that has been bestowed on six U.S. presidents and leaders of industry, education, arts, sports and others.”

That was just one of many honors Nootbaar earned during his long life, but according to him, the greatest honor was being married to two women — Dorothy, to whom he was married for 52 years until her death, and Elinor, whom he married later and was committed to for 27 years of marriage until she died in 2011.

The institute Nootbaar endowed at Pepperdine, one of six in its school of law, is dedicated to studying the intersection of law, religion and ethics — including “morality and the practice of law, bio-ethical legal issues, constitutional religious issues, clergy sexual abuse, religious lobbying, litigation within religious organizations before ecclesiastical courts, international human rights, tax exempt organizations, politics and the pulpit, government funding for faith-based services, law and poverty, and family law,” according to its website.

“Herb Nootbaar and his late wife Elinor were inspired visionaries with the School of Law and the University,” Deanell Reece Tacha, dean of the Pepperdine School of Law, said in a statement prepared by the university. “Their passion for law, religion, and global justice serves as a reminder of their lifelong commitment to serving humankind. They have made the law school a better place through their abiding interest and generosity.”  

Nootbaar’s memorial takes place Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 2 p.m. at Laguna Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach, Calif. In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made in Nootbaar’s memory to the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics: Pepperdine University.