Matsui Center Receives Bequest from Arlene and Vic Willits

Arlene and Vic Willits
July 27, 2016

Longtime University supporters Arlene and Vic Willits have made a generous bequest to the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service, reflecting their deep commitment to the Center’s mission of providing public service opportunities for Berkeley undergraduates.

The gift, part of a larger bequest to the University included in the Willits’ estate plan, represents the largest commitment to the Matsui Center since the initial congressional grant creating the Center in 2008. The gift will support student summer internships through the Center.

“This extraordinarily generous promise to the Center will allow us to sustain and expand our efforts to ensure that some of America’s brightest young people have the opportunity to experience public service,” said Matsui Center Director Ethan Rarick. “Arlene and Vic have long been dedicated to the Center’s mission, and this gift is only the latest proof of their dedication.”

The Willits met while they were students at Berkeley, and are devoted supporters of the campus. Arlene Willits serves on the Matsui Center’s National Advisory Committee, and the Willits recently completed a multi-year pledge toward the Matsui Center’s Local Government Fellowship program. They have also been generous donors to the Matsui Center’s parent organization, the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS).

“IGS thrives due to the tremendous support of our donors,” said Professor Jack Citrin, the Director of the Institute. “Arlene and Vic typify the finest qualities of Cal alumni – they are believers in our mission at IGS, in the special role of the Berkeley campus, and in the transformative nature of higher education. We are privileged to call them our supporters and friends.”

“This wonderful gift will help talented Cal students explore careers in service at all levels of government, just as my late husband, Bob Matsui, was inspired to do as an undergraduate,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui.  “Arlene and Vic have been leaders in supporting the Robert T. Matsui Center and its mission, and this new commitment builds on all they have done to help make the Center an important and vibrant part of U.C. Berkeley by promoting the value and dignity of participation in public life.”

The Willits’ connection to Cal extends back for many years. Vic received his B.A. in 1962 and his Ed.D. in 1968. Arlene received her B.A. in 1963 and her M.A. in 1967. After graduation, Vic pursued a career in college administration and teaching, much of it at Chabot and Las Positas colleges in Hayward and Livermore. Arlene participated in the Coro Fellowship Program in Public Affairs after graduating from Berkeley and later devoted her professional life to working with local governmental agencies as a facilitator, trainer, mediator, and consultant.

Both Arlene and Vic have been active in the California Alumni Association, with Arlene having served on the Board of Directors and Vic having served on the Scholarship Committee. In 2008, Arlene received a Trustees Citation from the UC Foundation, partially in recognition for her leadership role in her Class Reunion Campaigns, and in 2013 she was awarded the UC Berkeley Wheeler Oak Meritorious Award. Arlene and Vic have two grown daughters, Kristan (who is also a Cal grad) and Mari, as well as two grandsons. 

The Matsui Center was established in 2008 as a lasting legacy to the late Congressman Robert T. Matsui, who graduated from Cal in 1963 and eventually served more than 25 years in Congress before his untimely death. Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who was subsequently elected to the same seat, has been a strong supporter of the Center. The Matsui Center seeks to engage Berkeley undergraduates in public service through internship programs, public events, and the presence of distinguished visitors on campus.

The Matsui Center is a component of the Institute of Governmental Studies, which was founded on the Berkeley campus in 1919 and is California’s oldest public policy research center. The Institute, which is non-partisan, maintains a broad-based, interdisciplinary program of research, education, student fellowships, publishing, and public events.