FRESNO -- Lawyer Leo Kolligian, 90, who used his influence and charm as a gentle persuader to win approval of the University of California at Merced campus, died Thursday.
Mr. Kolligian had suffered from leukemia without letting news of his condition reach many people, said his son Lee.
As a UC regent for a dozen years beginning in 1985, the Fresno resident was instrumental in bringing the University of California to the San Joaquin Valley.
"He was very proud of his community and of bringing the University of California here," Lee Kolligian said Thursday. "It took a lot of horse-trading."
Mr. Kolligian prevailed on the state Legislature and governor's office to set priorities so that the valley secured the first campus built by the UC system in decades. UC Merced helped redress the valley's chronic second-rung status in higher education in California.
In business, he was a partner with Ed Kashian and Harold Zinkin in developing the River Park shopping center in Fresno.
Mr. Kolligian grew up poor and never let success in law, business and politics affect his approach to anybody he met, from presidents and governors to people on the street, nephew Bob Koligian said.
Koligian, who uses a different spelling of his last name, called his uncle "a regular guy" who preferred minimizing the contributions he made.
Lawyer O. James Woodward III, a longtime friend, said Mr. Kolligian valued high among his achievements his service as a university regent, as well as working to establish the Fresno Metropolitan Museum and assisting St. Agnes Medical Center.
"Above all that," Woodward said, were "his personal characteristics. He was a good friend. We shared lunch every few weeks."
Mr. Kolligian never let cancer dominate his life. "He didn't talk much about it. He wanted to hear about you," Woodward said.
Approaching the end of his life, Mr. Kolligian told his nephew, Koligian, that money was all a game, fun like a hunt. He kept 40-year-old furniture in the home he shared with his wife, June.
Dorothy "Dottie" Kolligian, Mr. Kolligian's first wife, died in 2000. They had great fun together, Woodward said, but Mr. Kolligian rejoiced in his second wedding and his marriage to June Kolligian.
The Rev. Arshen Aivazian of Fresno's St. Paul Armenian Church recalled how Mr. Kolligian and his second wife had talked in depth with him about their impending marriage:
"They had sought support of his entire family. They all were in support of him," said Ai- vazian, including "Mannix" TV star Mike Connors, Dottie Kolligian's brother, who grew up in Fresno as Krekor Ohanian.
"Mike was here when he remarried," Aivazian said. "Leo took it with so much fun."
The detective show "Mannix" appeared on CBS from 1967-75.
Lee Kolligian said his father had enjoyed a wonderful time at his 90th birthday party in August. UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang met Mr. Kolligian last year and was struck by his kindness during Kang's inauguration in November. Mr. Kolligian was ill, but didn't let that spoil his excitement over the inauguration.
"He was so pleased to be able to attend," Kang said.
At the chancellor's inauguration, Mr. Kolligian and Gov. Schwarzenegger recalled their first meeting years before Schwarzenegger entered politics and was making a reputation with his muscles, his nephew said. The two remembered how the young Schwarzenegger had asked Mr. Kolligian whether he could help him make it in Hollywood.
Schwarzenegger told Mr. Kolligian he vividly remembered that meeting, but he corrected him on the number of years that had elapsed, Mr. Kolligian's nephew said:
"Thirty years ago, a friend brought this muscle-bound guy to meet my uncle," Koligian said. "Schwarzenegger said, 'Leo, if you give me $3,000 to $4,000 per month for expenses, I will give you 10 percent for the rest of my life.' "
Mr. Kolligian offered to send Schwarzenegger to Hollywood for a screen test, Lee Kolligian recalled, but it was an era before action films. Hollywood thought this man with the thick Austrian accent never could make it.
Years later, recalling the unmade deal, Schwarzenegger made Mr. Kolligian a joking counteroffer: Make the 10 percent deal retroactive on the condition that Mr. Kolligian fund the state budget deficit.
Mr. Kolligian felt far more comfortable with such banter than with the trappings of wealth, his nephew said.
"Someone told me the other day he was the only person he would do business with on a handshake. Twenty-five years ago, he went to England and came back with a Rolls-Royce. He drove it here five months, but didn't like it for what it stood for. He traded it for a Firebird, I think."
Services for Mr. Kolligian will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Paul Armenian Church.