NEWPORT BEACH — Harold T. (Hal) Segerstrom Jr., a developer and arts patron whose family has helped shaped Orange County's cultural and commercial landscape, died Thursday afternoon of a heart attack. He was 65.
The Segerstroms, once the largest independent producers of large lima beans in the nation, built South Coast Plaza. The family also was responsible for launching the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the South Coast Repertory theater.
Segerstrom, who served as managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons with his first cousin, Henry T. Segerstrom, was remembered by friends and business associates Thursday night as a compassionate, caring man who was devoted to his family and shunned public attention. One friend who was close to Segerstrom called him "a big teddy bear."
"Hal and the members of this family are key to the history of the county. They're right there in Chapter 1," said Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young, who has worked with the Segerstroms on scores of projects over the past decade.
"The county owes a debt of gratitude to the family and to Hal in particular for being dedicated enough to make it all happen," Young said. "He (was) just a wonderful, jovial, fun-to-work-with human being and I think the community is going to miss him."
Hal Segerstrom and his wife of nearly 44 years, Jeanette, have long been staples of the local society scene. They lived in a bay-front home in Newport Beach and were philanthropists who gave generously to Opera Pacific and the Pacific Symphony. Members of the Center Club, they also donated money and time to Republican candidates, Hoag Hospital and other charities.
"Hal's death is a tremendous loss for the community. He and his wife, Jeanette, have been tremendously important people in the success of the arts," said Thomas Nielsen, chairman of the performing arts center's board of directors. "I am very saddened. I am going to miss him."
The Segerstrom family came to Orange County in 1898 and prospered as dairy farmers and lima bean growers. When the land became too valuable for farming, the family turned to commercial development, building South Coast Plaza in 1967 and a string of other ventures in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana.
Though they took the helm of the family business together when Harold Segerstrom Sr. died in 1978, Henry Segerstrom has enjoyed a more public role as the company's leader. Hal Segerstrom, a graduate of USC who had always been an agriculture buff, headed the family farming operation.
"He was a man of the earth," said Donna Bunce of Santa Ana, a close friend and fellow patron of Opera Pacific who edits a society magazine in Newport Beach. "He loved to farm--that was his life."
Friends said Hal Segerstrom was a family man who liked to barbecue, sing in his grand baritone and sail aboard his 48-foot cruiser, the Hal-Jean.
Floss Schumacher, an Orange County arts activist who now lives in La Quinta, described him as a "loving, caring homebody."
"Hal and Jeanette were so family-oriented. The children were always first and foremost--they were always at his table at a ball or a party," Schumacher said. "He was unique. He didn't want to be part of the limelight."
Added Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who has know the Segerstroms for 20 years: "He was the kind of a person with always a happy smile."
Hal Segerstrom died Thursday at 1:30 p.m. of congestive heart failure, with his family surrounding him at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. He had suffered from heart problems for the past several years and entered the hospital earlier this week, but his condition had been improving, according to company spokesman Werner Escher.
"It's very much of a shock," Escher said. "This is just out of the blue."
In addition to his wife and cousin, Segerstrom is survived by his four children, Sandra Daniels and Sally Segerstrom of Costa Mesa, Ted Segerstrom of Irvine and Susan Perry of Laguna Hills, and eight grandchildren. A ninth grandchild, Corinne Segerstrom, died last fall at age 7 when she fell off a harvester in a family lima bean field and was crushed.
Funeral arrangements are pending but are tentatively planned for next week at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, friends said.