Greg Linde was born Olle Gregor Linde in Hede, Härjedalen, Sweden on October 3, 1925. He was athletic and loved the farms and forests, mountains, nature and wildlife of his province and country. His youthful delight as a sports fisherman and hunter never deserted him, fashioning his character as a successful businessman and community member. Linde's mother had traveled to the U.S. and his uncles had emigrated there, so the lure (if not allure) was set early.

As a young man in Sweden, Linde pursued aviation, and in World War II he downed a Russian plane off Götland in 1944. After the war he completed studies in civil engineering; in 1949 he left Sweden to make his fortune in the U.S.

Emigration was but one of the many ironies and triumphs in his fabled career. Arriving at Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty beckoned with her words: "Give me your … masses yearning to be free … I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Those are the sentiments we publicize, but the officious guards for emigrants after the end of the war were anything but welcoming, deriding him. “Why are you coming here? To take away jobs from our countrymen?”

In the U.S. he became known as Greg. And it was as Greg Linde, the successful American businessman, who many years later returned to Ellis Island to receive an award for his contributions as an emigrant, who had enriched this, his adopted country.

He was employed by several typical, lower level emigrant jobs, including a stint with a soccer team, before he landed a job with a railroad company that would make his career and bring him west. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company (SP) is as legendary as Linde's rise within that company. SP began almost a dozen years after the California Gold Rush, eventually retaining its name, even as it became part of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which had built the toughest part of the railroad that unified the U.S. as the first transcontinental railroad. By the time Linde joined them, SP was already the largest landholder in California and one of the largest in the west, thanks to federal grants for unifying the country, a feat equivalent to building the Great Wall of China.

Not only did SP need a man of Linde’s technical skills, but they also recognized his leadership and invested in his development by sending him to Stanford University (founded by the first president of SP, Leland Stanford) for further executive education. With his steady rise in the executive ranks, he became CEO for two decades of SP’s realty company, which had holdings throughout the south and the west. Ironically, the Southern Pacific and its railroad tracks became famous for another hallmark of modern technology when its telecommunications network along its railway right of way, enhanced by its state-of-the-art microwave and fiber optic backbone, became the Sprint telecommunications company.

Linde’s career was in the real estate portion of the business, and under him it was always profitable. He built two iconic San Francisco office buildings, the SP headquarters at One Market Plaza and the Golden Gateway, both in the financial district adjoining the Embarcadero. He also built a 1,100-room hotel in New Orleans and the 10-acre Los Angeles convention center. His reach extended over SP’s 14 states, managing almost a million acres not merely of railway lands, but also of forests, farms, oil fields and a variety of other real estate ventures. As SP’s owner of Mission Bay, he had dreamed of creating a Venetian canal complex here on the southern waterfront of San Francisco, on land owned by SP. While that did not happen, the area today is headquarters for the state’s biotech medical research as well as one of the prime spots of San Francisco’s current development.

The other great accomplishment of his life was marrying Sylvia Linde, who was as accomplished academically as he was commercially. Together they were a power couple, with their common Swedish heritage and good looks — a tall and distinguished man, he could have walked off the set and been mistaken for the hero in any movie. Even as a busy executive he still found time to be chairman of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce as well as an emeritus member of the Swedish Council of America's Round Table.

It was in this former capacity, when I joined the board of SACC-SF/SV (from which I have retired after a quarter century), that I first came to know Linde and considered him a mentor. He set the standard for me. He helped Palestinians settle in southern California while he became a friend of Ronald Reagan and other presidents. For all his contributions, and for his continuing advocacy of Sweden, the kingdom knighted Greg Linde as Commander of the Order of the Polar Star.

In addition to all his accomplishments, Sylvia considered her husband's strongest trait to be the generosity of his character, what the ancients called "magnanimity" (great heartedness): "The beauty is that Greg made so many friends around the world, assisted them to 'shine,' and contributed, in a quiet way, to their success as well. He truly enjoyed and valued their friendship, were they ordinary folk or leaders of mankind."

In their retirement the couple founded Linde Vineyards in Sonoma and in 1998 acquired yet another vineyard in South Africa. By 2006 they had also bought a 15,000-acre spread in South Africa.

Illness began to cripple Linde's once elegant figure, and though it may have bent him, it never broke him. My wife and I, accompanied by our colleague Gunilla Ramel, visited the Lindes at their northern California vineyard, where Linde led the way describing all aspects of the winery. He showed off his and Sylvia's beloved SP caboose at the vineyard, a symbol of the company that had fostered him. He escorted us around their beautiful home where he and the family resided, with its long hall filled with his handsome official portraits, certificates and pictures documenting a lifetime of familial, commercial and political accomplishments. At the table his humor and smile showed that he was as keen as ever.

Greg Linde realized his ambition and lived the American dream. He published a memoir in Swedish, which Gunilla Ramel absorbed and noted: "Few Americans of Swedish descent have developed the stature and ability to blend into Corporate America as Greg did. It was hard to [believe] that he was not a native speaker of English, [for] he had a commanding presence at the same time as he exuded kindness and generosity."

As the end of his life's journey approached, Olle Gregor Linde returned home to Hede to be with the people and the land he cherished. There, on Friday, June 19, as the light of Midsummer Eve beamed down and blessed him, Olle Gregor Linde took his final rest.

For a beautiful Swedish obituary by his lifelong friend Jan Hedberg of Falun, see: Also:

By Ted Olsson
San Francisco