BERKELEY - The hope and excitement surrounding the start of a new year for California rugby was tempered on August 1 by the death of Brock R. Settlemier at the age of 79 following a two-year battle with cancer. Settlemier, who played for the Golden Bears in 1955 and ’56, was one of the program’s biggest supporters, and his passion for rugby and life will be sorely missed.
The former owner, and president and CEO of Bigge Crane and Rigging Co., Brock Settlemier was born in Palo Alto on July 23, 1934, and raised in San Francisco, where he attended Lowell High School and graduated from Mount Tamalpais High School for Boys. In addition to rugby, Brock rowed freshman crew and joined the Beta Theta Pi fraternity on arrival at the University in 1952.
Settlemier, whose Cal rugby teams included legendary names including head coach Miles “Doc” Hudson and player Noel Bowden, received his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 1956 and immediately joined the Army, marrying his college sweetheart, Marlene, in 1957. He joined Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. the following year and, in 1980, purchased the company and served as President and CEO for the next 25 years.
During his over 40-year tenure at Bigge, Settlemier grew the company into a worldwide player in nuclear power construction, heavy crane rental, power generation and heavy lift rigging. He traveled extensively for over two decades and managed major heavy lift rigging projects on five continents in over 30 countries. Bigge won industry awards for rigging projects in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Hong Kong, Brazil, Venezuela and the United States. In 2003, Brock received the industry's most prestigious honor, the Golden Eagle Achievement Award, for outstanding lifetime accomplishments. Brock held a general engineering contractor's license for over 40 years. His trade associations include the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, Crane Owners Association, the Beavers and the Association of General Contractors of America.
With a persistent will and spirit, Brock completed 68 marathons. Brock won the 1st Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon as a Senior at age 46 and competed in many other triathlons and endurance events. Brock was a lifetime member of the Society of California Pioneers, an avid golfer, skier and woodworker. He was a loving spouse, a great father and a generous friend. Brock and Marlene were engaged community members in Piedmont and Lake Tahoe, where they spent the majority of their lives together.
Brock is survived by his wife of 56 years, Marlene Bigge Settlemier, his daughter Laura Settlemier McIntyre (spouse Charles) of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; his daughter Juliet Settlemier Ivey (spouse Henry Ivey) of Monte Sereno, Calif.; his sons Brock Reid Settlemier Jr. (spouse Amy) and Weston James Settlemier (spouse Lisa), both of Piedmont, Calif. He is survived by nine grandchildren as well as his brother Grant Settlemier (spouse Joni) of San Francisco.
Brock Settlemier will be remembered as an innovative leader and an industry pioneer, and will be mourned by his family, for which he was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother, mentor and great friend.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to The Brock R. Settlemier Memorial Fund for Rugby, payable to UC Berkeley Foundation, and sent to:
University of California Berkeley
195 Haas Pavilion
Berkeley, CA 94720
C/O Phil Esten
In 2012, Settlemier spoke of his careers on an off the rugby pitch for an edition of the Varsity XV Newsletter; below is a reprint of that conversation.
XV: Is it true that your cranes helped with both the construction of Haas Pavilion and the renovation of Memorial Stadium?
Settlemier: I was the President and CEO of Bigge from 1980 to 2004, for 24 years. As such, I did contribute to the construction of Haas Pavilion by gifts in kind of heavy crane service to erect Hass Pavilion. I then became Chairman for about three years and today I’m Chairman Emeritus. My sons, Westin and B. Reid, are running the business and they’re very capable. During the renovation of Memorial Stadium we’ve had big cranes up there setting up the press box and doing some heavy lifts. We’re pleased to help.
XV: You played for coach Miles “Doc” Hudson, who in fact was a dentist when he wasn’t coaching the Bears. What are your memories of him?
Settlemier: I played breakaway and sometimes rear row, number six in the lineout and sometimes number eight for coach Hudson and there are a lot of great memories. A lot of the guys that played for him also went to him for dental work. I’ll never forget when we went out to Doc’s funeral in Orinda, there must have been 500 guys there. Tom Trutner, who was a fullback, said, ‘How many of you guys played rugby for Doc?’ and of course 75 percent of the guys in the church stood up in the overflowing crowd. And then he said, ‘All you guys that went to Doc as a dentist, remain standing,’ and most of them remained standing. I just laughed because I’d never thought of it that way. He was promoting his dental practice.
XV: The 1956 team played a four-match series against the British Columbia Thunderbirds to win the “World Cup,” although UBC dealt the Bears their only setbacks in a 12-1-1 season, with a 6-6 tie and 8-0 loss at Thunderbird Stadium. How intense was that series?
Settlemier: Those were “no substitution” games and we had injuries in the last one. We ended up with 13 guys and they ended up with 12 or 13. We lost our fullback, Alan Schmeisser, to a separated shoulder and we lost a couple of guys to leg injuries. It was brutal. It was also the first time I ever played in front of over 20,000 people. We played at Memorial Stadium on grass and could get 1,000 people on a good day.
XV: What was it like to have some accomplished international players on your team such as former New Zealand All Black Noel Bowden?
Settlemier: Noel Bowden was definitely a leader of the team. He moved to Berkeley to do his doctorate and was an absolutely super guy, about 135 pounds and he could kick the rugby ball 75 meters. He was so accurate with the drop kick. In those days we had a lot of other international players. On the ’55-56 team we had John Harrison in the backfield, he was from the UK; and Leif Gjestland, a scrumhalf from South Africa who knew the game well. We had Murdo Nicholson, a prop who had played rugby in Hong Kong, and a fraternity brother of mine named John Elworthy from British Columbia. These five guys were kind of the leaders. Bowden would act as a coach for the backs and Truck Cullom, who was a hell of a football player and also a rugger, would coach the forwards. Doc, more or less, was the overall coach. We didn’t know the game anywhere near as well as those five guys, because they had played pre-college.
XV: Did your post-graduate military service fall between the Korean and Vietnam Wars?
Settlemier: I graduated in ’56 and at the time the Korean War was in occupation. I spent two years in the Army in the Medical Corps as an Advance Field Medical Instructor at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I didn’t get overseas and that was fine with me because I was married at the time and perfectly happy with staying in the United States.
XV: Once in the business world, did your Cal rugby experience prove to be an asset?
Settlemier: Playing an international game with guys from around the world helped me a lot from a business perspective. It helped me get to know guys from other countries. During Bigge, I bought the company from its former owner in 1980, returning from Europe to purchase the company, and then I expanded the company into both a nationwide and worldwide player in nuclear power construction and heavy crane rental. I traveled extensively for two decades and managed projects on five continents and 25 foreign countries including Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Hong Kong, Brazil and Venezuela, and I felt I was sort of halfway introduced to all those places through the guys that were on our rugby team. It was a real eclectic but very close-knit bunch of guys.
XV: What is your view of head coach Jack Clark and his stewardship of the program?
Settlemier: Jack Clark is fantastic. He’s got great leadership. He’s got character. He’s the best. The discipline that he imparts to that team is enormous. His response to fiscal crises has been extraordinary. Jack has done a fabulous job.
XV: What importance does Cal rugby hold in your life?
Settlemier: I’ve been associated with three fabulously successful things in my life: my family, my business and Cal rugby. So I’m very honored to have been a part of Cal rugby for as long as I have and I like to support it.