Menlo News January 26, 2022

Remembering John Arrillaga and His Mark on Menlo’s Campus

We were sad to learn that John Arrillaga, father of John Arrillaga Jr. ’88 as well as developer, designer, and donor of much of Menlo’s current campus, passed away on January 24 at age 84, surrounded by his immediate family.

John’s invaluable involvement is the reason Menlo School has the campus we do today: he was instrumental in the construction of the Middle and Upper School campuses, the Athletic Center, the Creative Arts and Design Center, Whitaker Lab, and the renovation of Stent Hall that added the current Dining Commons and Student Center. The peaceful redwood grove at the back of the Quad is named in honor of John’s first wife, Frances, who was a devoted Menlo parent. 

“Today’s Menlo School is a testament to John,” says former Head of School Norm Colb. “He built both the Upper and Middle School campuses and, refusing to cut any corners, he insisted on getting everything just right. To thank John adequately was never possible, although many of us never stopped trying. Knowing that he was building exceptional facilities for a school he cherished was all the thanks he ever wanted.”

David McAdoo, former Director of Operations, recalls that initial work with architects on the new Upper School campus grew expensive and complicated. A meeting with John—which included John requesting a pack of cards and performing an incredible card trick, to the surprise of all present—ended in his saying, “Get me a set of drawings, and I’ll get back to you after I clean this up to make it simpler, faster, and more affordable.” And he did. 

When walking through campus with John to check on projects under construction, David recalls him frequently stopping to pull a weed out of a planter or pick up a piece of trash—which encouraged others to do the same. “He was taking mental notes about whether you were doing the same thing and how committed you were to the project. He demanded a whole lot, but he gave so much more.” 

Than Healy remembers going out to lunch with John as they got to know each other and being surprised when John asked him, “Do you like soup?” Than confirmed that he did, and John proceeded to order a soup that wasn’t on the menu on both of their behalves.

“And the thing is,” Than adds, “he’s spot-on—it’s amazing soup; it’s a great meal!” The same was true of John’s exacting vision for building projects, Than shares, “It may not have been what you thought you wanted when you walked in, but you’re glad he ordered it for you.” 

“In so many ways he was a giant,” Norm says, “and any description of this towering figure must mention his commitment to bettering his community; his extraordinary generosity; his meticulous attention to detail; his vision; and his refusal to accept limits to realizing his vision.” 

John also had a soft side, especially visible in his care for his family. David remembers John inviting his grandson and David’s daughter down into an excavation to gleefully climb on a tractor, while Than remembers the loving care John put into his request to have the redwood grove named after his late wife. “He knew Fran’s name on a building wouldn’t have been nearly as nice a tribute to her as preserving that really peaceful grove.” 

Incredibly direct in manner and unbelievably generous, John was passionate about giving and wanted the best for educational institutions. His generosity, vision, and efficiency have left an indelible mark on the School as well as so many others in our community. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. 

Photo courtesy of the Arrillaga family via Stanford University.