Highly respected attorney, community activist, philanthropist and Cal State San Bernardino supporter Bruce Varner passed away at the age of 84.
Varner, who received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Cal State San Bernardino in 2011, was a longtime university advocate, serving on the CSUSB Philanthropic Foundation Board. He was a supporter of numerous activities, including being one of the financial founders of the Coyote athletics program, helping to fund the development of the university’s athletic facilities, including Coussoulis Arena.
He and his late wife, Nancy, who died in June 2019, established one of the original athletic scholarships at CSUSB in honor of his parents, Ann and Doyle Varner, as well as the Bruce and Nancy Varner endowment and the Daniel S. Bagdon endowment to support students enrolled in the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration. To date, the impact of their generosity has helped more than 35 students accomplish their dream of earning a college degree. Varner was also the 2004 recipient of the CSUSB Arrowhead Distinguished Executive Officer Award from the university’s College of Business and Public Administration.
“Bruce Varner was an incredible and extraordinary advocate and leader of California’s public higher education systems,” said CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales. “The Inland Empire was so fortunate to have Bruce champion the needs of our region. We will miss him. As a strong supporter of CSUSB, he left his mark. His philanthropic work has benefitted and will continue to benefit our students in the years to come.”
Robert J. Nava, CSUSB vice president for University Advancement, said Varner’s dedication and determination brought necessary focus to the Inland Empire especially in education.
“Bruce was a major force in helping our region develop and grow. A tireless advocate of higher education, he was an advisor to President Morales, served on our foundation board and was a major donor and advocate for our campus,” Nava said. “His service on the UC Regents also provided him the opportunity to advocate for the UC and UCR and bring state-wide attention to the educational needs in our region.”
Varner was nominated to serve on the University of California Board of Regents in 2006 and was elected board vice chair in 2011. He went on to serve as board chair from 2013-2015. While on the board, he served on a number of committees including the search committee for a new UC leader resulting in the hiring of UC President Janet Napolitano.
In addition, he served on the board of directors for Stater Bros. companies, Super Rx Inc., Security Bank of California, Matich Corporation and the National Orange Show, and was a member of the Service Academy Review Board 41st Congressional District.
Bruce and Nancy Varner were active leaders in the Inland Empire for many years, providing support to local nonprofit organizations. They were tireless advocates for K-12 and higher education, as well as other non-profits and causes that benefited the community. He served as a board member and chairman of the San Bernardino Economic Development Council, and was past president and board member of the San Bernardino Boys Club, past president and board member of the San Bernardino Jaycees, and past board member and president of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership.
As a passionate advocate for his community, he was also involved with the Monday Morning Group, San Bernardino County Bar Committees, Loma Linda Children’s Hospital Foundation, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Advisory Committee, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Executive Council, the Silver Eagle Club, and the Friends of the Arrowhead.
He and Nancy were recipients of the Shirley Pettis Award given by the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, and the Dick Bryant Memorial Award by Santa Claus, Inc. He was named an Inland Empire Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996.
A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and University of California Hastings College of Law, Varner began his legal career as an associate with the law firm of Kendel & Anderson in Los Angeles. He moved to San Bernardino in 1964 to become an associate with the firm of Lonergan and Jordan and became a partner in 1967. For the next 30 years, he practiced law with the firm that became known as Gresham, Varner, Savage, Nolan & Tilden. In 1997 Varner branched out to establish his own firm of Varner & Brandt, LLP.
He is survived by his four children Kevin, Sean, Brett and Nicole; and eight grandchildren.