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Santa Rosa attorney, education champion Kirt Zeigler dies at 80

Some graduates and current students of two acclaimed private Sonoma County college-preparatory schools may never know they are living legacy of the quiet, cerebral and voraciously inquisitive Kirt Zeigler.

The retired Santa Rosa attorney, who died Wednesday at age 80, had humbly gone about achieving great things when, in 2001, he and his wife, Bev, and some influential partners co-founded Sonoma Academy, a high school in south Santa Rosa. Earlier, the Zeiglers were among the pioneer advocates of Sonoma Country Day School.

Kirt Zeigler once said that he valued helping people “use their God-given intelligence to do smart stuff,” and that he was proud to support schools that “did the right stuff more often than the wrong stuff.”

Before he and partners Ed Anderson and Robert Disharoon founded in 1982 what is now the Santa Rosa law firm of Anderson Zeigler, Kirt Zeigler distinguished himself at Stanford University, sailed from Sausalito to Hawaii using only celestial navigation, and consumed a library’s worth of books on everything from geology and mineralogy to philosophy, politics and restatement of trusts.

As one of Sonoma County’s most highly regarded lawyers, he specialized in estate planning and probate but enjoyed delving into myriad other areas of law. If asked what type of law he practiced, he was likely to reply, “I represent people and deal with all the problems that people have.”

He was still working part-time at the law firm on Old Courthouse Square as recently as last fall.

“He was just so superb with his clients,” Bev Zeigler said. “His integrity was just impeccable.”

Kirt F. Zeigler, from the start, had nothing handed to him. He was born in San Francisco on Sept. 6, 1939, to parents who shortly thereafter moved their family to Modesto.

Zeigler, soon the eldest of four boys, hadn’t yet started school when his father went off to fight in World War II. By necessity, he helped his mother with the garden and the chickens, and with his brothers.

An avid reader with a clearly superior intellect, he was 16 when, while approaching graduation from Modesto’s Thomas Downey High School, he applied to some of the country’s most demanding and prestigious colleges. He was accepted by MIT, Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago and Stanford.

He chose Stanford, making political science his major because it allowed him to indulge in a wide selection of courses. Before the end of his sophomore year, he married his high school sweetheart, the former Carol Barger, and they started a family.

Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Zeigler achieved a perfect score on the Law School Admission Test. He graduated from Stanford’s law school in the top five of his class, then was offered positions by some of New York City’s top law firms.

He chose the Wall Street firm of Cleary Gottlieb, and he and his wife, who was pregnant, and their toddler headed east in their Volkswagen Beetle.

After six years in and around Manhattan, Ziegler decided he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on an island cut off from the rest of the country by “bridges and wires.” Conversations with a cousin in Santa Rosa persuaded him to return to California in 1969 and to look seriously at Sonoma County.

He joined Santa Rosa’s oldest law firm, the prominent and powerful Spridgen firm. There he met and befriended the brilliant tax and estate-planning attorney, Ed Anderson.

Kirt and Carol Zeigler had been married for 23 years and had reared three children when they divorced.

In 1982, Kirt Zeigler, Spridgen firm colleagues Anderson and Disharoon and other partners founded Anderson, Zeigler, Disharoon, Gallagher & Gray.

The new practice thrived and joined the ranks of the North Bay’s most respected law firms.

Also in ’82, Zeigler married the former Bev Floyd.

Kirt Zeigler was long involved in a variety of community endeavors. While serving as chairman of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, he co-founded the Leadership Santa Rosa program.

For decades, he met his outgoing and intrigued law partner and friend, Anderson, for breakfast six days a week at Mac’s Deli, a short walk from their offices on the east side of Santa Rosa’s central square.

Former Central Valley farm boy Zeigler became what his wife called “a master organic gardener.” He sailed, and he did a good bit of hiking, on the Pacific Crest Trail and elsewhere.

“He was nonstop,” said Bev Zeigler.

And, always, Kirt Zeigler read.

“He was very well-rounded, curious about everything,” his wife said. “He was still eating books alive just a few weeks ago.”

Kirt Zeigler died from complications of prostate cancer early Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to his wife in Santa Rosa, he is survived by his children, Jane Packey of El Dorado Hills, Scott Zeigler of Guerneville, Elizabeth Green of Ledbury, England; Laura Zeigler of Lafayette, Colorado, and Josephine Zeigler of Battle Ground, Washington; his mother, R. Jean Zeigler of Oakdale; his brothers, Steve Zeigler of Quincy, Max Zeigler of Davis and Scott Zeigler of Pagosa Springs, Colorado; 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Bev Zeigler said planning for a celebration of her husband’s life will begin once the pandemic ends.

She suggests memorial donations to the Sonoma Academy Endowment, 2500 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa 95404.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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