oakland -- B.R. (Bill) Stokes, the former BART general manager who is credited with propelling the financing, construction and operation of the transportation district from its origins in 1958 to 1974, died May 15 in Sammamish, Wash. He was 89.
Stokes was the agency's first employee, and he brought his lifelong commitment to ambitious, technologically-advanced public transit to the area's postwar building and transportation operations.
As director of information, he delivered over 300 speeches between 1958 and 1962 to gain approval from voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties for the $792 million bond issue to build the 75-mile rail rapid transit system.
Former BART chief spokesman Mike Healy said his longtime friend was articulate and dynamic. Stokes was an urban affairs reporter for the Oakland Tribune for 12 years before being hired by the Bay Area Rapid Transportation district.
"I remember he expected BART wouldn't finish being built in his lifetime," Healy recalled. "After the first phase, he knew it would reach all over the Bay Area someday. And he was right."
But there were many obstacles along the way. Marin and San Mateo counties dropped out of the original, five-county district in 1962; a 61.2 percent vote left room for public and legislative opposition; and late-1960s double-digit inflation, and what Healy referred to as "bugs in the system," threatened completion of what was the largest locally-funded public works project in U.S. history. In 1969, the state Legislature passed a temporary half percent sales tax authorizing an additional $150 million bond measure.
"It seemed my father was always a lightening rod for controversy," said Tim Stokes, of Berkeley. "The (initial) bond won largely because of my father's force of will, but there were serious opponents."
A student at Orinda's Miramonte High School during the worst turmoil, Tim remembers handing out fliers on campus and the family's fierce loyalty.
"We felt embattled," he said, about himself and his three siblings. "But my dad was stoic about it: there was a steady, calm power about him."
Younger sister Lindsey Stokes experienced the cost overrun protests differently, writing in a family tribute, "We had bomb threats, and union marches at the end of our driveway, and our house was under 24-hour protection. Was it scary? It was great! We were kids."
Tim said his father had "a remarkable capacity to leave trouble at the office," perhaps one reason the threats seemed exciting and surmountable. "He lived in the present moment, so we didn't hear the incredible stories until we were cleaning out his house after my mother died in 2011."
In the Stokes' Reston, Va., home, Tim and his three sisters discovered a "treasure trove" of newspaper clippings, awards, bond approval bills and BART memorabilia. Included in the files was information about BART's highlights: the lowering of the final Transbay Tube section in April 1969, a ride from San Leandro to Lake Merritt with then-President Richard Nixon and first lady Pat in 1972, and commencement of transbay operations in 1974 -- after Stokes was gone.
"Others would say he was forced out," Tim said. "I say, he was the leader and the leader takes the heat. To his credit, he put in a good stint with them and obtained the financing to complete the system."
Following 11 years with BART, Stokes became the chief executive officer of American Public Transit Association, headquartered in Washington, D.C. He later served as director general of the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co. Tim said his father saw in both jobs an opportunity to work on a national scale and recognition for his role in building a progressive, ambitious public transit system.
"It's an integral part of the fabric of the Bay Area," Tim said. "When I use BART now, I think, 'My dad did this.' I couldn't be more proud."
Born in Shawnee, Okla., in 1924, Bill Stokes attended college at the University of Oklahoma and UC Berkeley. As an officer in the U.S. Navy, he was aboard a destroyer involved in the Japanese surrender in Sasebo, Japan, during World War II.
Besides Tim and Lindsey, of Santa Rosa, Bill Stokes is survived by daughters, Leigh Allison Stokes, of Seattle, and Celia Marie Stokes, of Frederick, Md.,; and six grandchildren.