William Goldman. Photo courtesy University of San Francisco website

William Sachs Goldman, grandson of Goldman Environmental Prize founders, dies in plane crash


William “Bill” Sachs Goldman, the grandson of San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman, was killed July 13 in a light plane crash in Sonoma County. He was 38.

Goldman was piloting the single-engine private plane, which also was carrying his two children and the family’s au pair, when it crashed at about 12:45 p.m. in a rural field southwest of Sonoma Skypark Airport, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Goldman was pronounced dead at the scene. The three other passengers were taken to local hospitals, deputies said. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat identified them as Valeria Anselmi of Milan, Italy, and grade school-age children George and Marie. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash.

Assistant Schell-Vista Fire Chief Mike Mulas said a half-dozen civilians arrived at the crash site before emergency personnel and pulled the children from the wreckage, The Press Democrat reported. “All three of the injuries were severe to critical,” Mulas said.

Gina Isi, of Sonoma, was on her lunch break outside cork company Ganau America in Sonoma watching the runway when she heard the plane take off, The Press Democrat reported.

“It was just at the beginning of its ascent, when I heard it — like it was going to stall,” she said. “It sounded like it choked a little bit, so I was like, ‘Holy cow!’ and then it seemed like it was going to recover, like I heard more revving, and then it just died,” she is quoted as saying on the newspaper’s website.

Goldman was an assistant professor of international studies at the University of San Francisco. In a statement released after the crash, University of San Francisco President Paul Fitzgerald said Goldman was “an accomplished scholar, a beloved and generous teacher, and a valued member of our community.”

“He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, students and the countless alumni who were inspired by him in and out of the classroom,” Fitzgerald said.

Goldman’s grandparents were philanthropists Richard Goldman and his wife, Rhoda, an heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 1989, the couple established the distinguished Goldman Environmental Prize to recognize grass-roots environmental activism around the world. Each winner received an award of $150,000 — the largest award in the world for grass-roots environmentalists — and often is referred to as the “Green Nobel.”

The eponymous foundation gave $700 million to more than 2,500 grantees in its 60 years of existence. The fund closed in 2012.

In 2012, Goldman and siblings founded the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation to assist underserved children and communities gain access to education, health and financial resources.

Goldman’s wife, Serra Falk Goldman, an associate attorney at Falk, Cornell & Associates, is a member of the University of San Francisco’s board of trustees and school of law alumna.