SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco financier and philanthropist Warren Hellman died Sunday at the age of 77, his family said.

Hellman, founder of private equity firm Hellman and Friedman LLC, championed a wide variety of ventures and causes. For many, however, he is best known as the founder of the hugely popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival in Golden Gate Park and more recently as chairman of the board for the Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news organization he helped found in 2010.

“That’s just one of the many things that he and his wife have done for the City, including their incredible support of the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Free Clinic, and it was Warren Hellman, who was a journalism buff, who put up $5 million to found the Bay Citizen, that nonprofit journalism foundation that does investigative and local reporting,” said San Francisco Chronicle political editor Carla Marinucci.

Jonathan Weber, the Bay Citizen’s founding editor-in-chief, said the news of Hellman’s death came as a shock. He described Hellman as a “quirky” man who did things his own way and questioned the conventional wisdom.

“He was an outstanding chairman, he really gave a lot of himself, both money and otherwise, to make the Bay Citizen happen,” said Weber, who left the Bay Citizen in September. “His commitment to journalism was very real and I think everyone on the editorial staff felt that.”

Hellman was also actively involved in city politics, and mayor Ed Lee Sunday evening called him “a great friend, true hero and one of a kind San Franciscan.”

“Few have contributed so much of their heart and soul to improve our city, leaving a legacy that will endure forever,” Lee said.

San Francisco city officials on Thursday renamed Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park, the site of Hellman’s free annual bluegrass and music festival, as Hellman Hollow. Hellman was a lifelong music lover who played in the bluegrass group The Wronglers.

KCBS’ Bob Butler Reports:

“He was a fascinating guy, very low key,” added KCBS, CBS 5 and SF Chronicle Insider Phil Matier.

“Not only is he the last of his generation, but he was very unique. Ed Lee is trying to get bunch of the tech guys in San Francisco and in the Bay Area to get into philanthropy and my answer to him is good luck, we’ll see it when it happens,” Matier reasoned.

“But Warren Hellman, not only was he a great giver but I’ve got to be honest with you, a lot of times with these givers, there’s usually a time when you see them around City Hall or with their agents and there’s an ask-back, they’re looking for a development approval or they’re looking for a break here or break there, I never saw Warren on that end,” said Matier.  “He was always just there doing what he thought was right and never, I never saw him come back and say ‘okay, I want something in return.'”

KCBS, CBS 5 and SF Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Reports:

Public services were planned for Wednesday for Hellman.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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