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.