Richard Friss
(1931 - 2010)

Richard Friss



Guest Book
I'm an anesthesiologist in San Diego and a former student of Mr. Friss's. I was quite a pain in high school (to say the least). Mr. Friss was the first person to set boundries for me while at the same time motivating me to learn. He wouldn't accept anything but my best. And while I failed over and over to find my "best", he never gave up on me. I wouldn't be where I am today without his teaching.
Byron Fergerson (Former Student)
January 26th, 2016
Mr. Friss saw things in me, academically, that I did not see. He pushed me my sophomore year to express myself through words. No other teacher at Northgate prepared me more for College and life than Mr. Friss did. He refused to accepted mediocre work, and pushed everyone to do their best. To this day I try to paint pictures with my words – and always ask Who-What-Where and Why. I went from dreading his class sophomore year, to requesting a transfer into his class senior year. He made me a better person. I wrote him from college thanking him, and I wish I had again when I graduated. I was heartbroken to find this site, as I was hoping that I could let him know how much he influenced my life in 2 short years at Northgate. God Bless you Mr. Friss and family.
Adam Maul (Former Student)
June 25th, 2014
In this day and age, where it's more important to be cool than to write with proper grammar and punctuation, I have insisted on writing with who-what-where-when-why/how, all because of this man, my highschool teacher for three consecutive years, Mr. JR Friss. He has taught me to always question what is being told to me, even though it's "always the way it has been"; To be clear what the facts are, even though they're ignored by most people; To find an edge and walk on it; To remember that the real world exists even though you're in school; To never let the evaluation of your work be a measurement of your worth, but a measurement of your growth. I was reminded of him yesterday, when an observant person took notice of my writing, and gave me her kind compliment of its structure. Thank you, Mr. Friss. I'll miss you, and I promise I'll make you proud.
Henry Liao (Student)
August 29th, 2013
Marina and family-

I am so sad to learn of Mr. Friss passing. He was such a great teacher... one of my all-time favorites. My year with him at Northgate was so inspiring, incredibly tough and most of all, memorable. Nobody hit nerves with his feedback the way he did, but it was always concise, spot-on and prodded us to improve ourselves with fierce determination. His wry sense of humor was a new thing for some of us students, and we came to love it, seeing it almost as a privileged transition from high school senior to soon-to-be college student. He didn't laugh at us, he laughed with us at ourselves. And in doing so, taught us to take learning seriously, while not taking ourselves too seriously. I've been told many times that I write well; that I write with a seasoned voice. For as much as that's true, as well for many other lessons learned, I thank your father deeply. He was truly a great educator and a wonderful man. And I am so sorry for your deep loss. -Maggie
Maggie Tsai-Straight (Former Student)
June 10th, 2013
Mr. Friss (as I called him) taught me to make my words count. He inspired me, made me feel that I mattered and prepared me for college. I will never forget him.
Chris Adams (Student)
April 9th, 2013
I was in Mr. Friss's English class in my sophomore or junior year at Mt. Diablo High School. That was 1964 or 1965. Looking back now, at age 62, I think he had a deeper impact on my life than any other teacher in my four years at Mt. Diablo. As a typical self-absorbed teenager, I didn't really appreciate or grasp just how valuable a gift this man was until years after high school. He was a man of great integrity. He modeled empathy for generations of high school student. He taught us to care deeply for our fellow man. I remember one incident in particular: An upperclassman, a "jock", had smashed an orange into the head of a bespectacled bookish-type sophomore. Students who witnessed the event shrugged and walked on. Another typical day at Mt. Diablo. Mr. Friss, on the other hand, was outraged. He used the moment to deliver a life-lesson that has stuck in my head for lo these many years. He hated bullying...but he didn't hate the bully. This man made a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids. Thank you, Mr. Friss.
Larry Underhill (Former student)
November 20th, 2011
Mr. Friss was my most memorable teacher at Mt. Diablo High School and I have thought of him often. He treated us as adults and taught us to think for ourselves. He would always ask "Why?", and that's how he signed my yearbook. Mr. Friss may be gone physically, but he will always live on in our hearts. How great that he made a lasting impact on so many people and touched their lives.
Beverly Boggs (Former Student)
November 17th, 2011
20 years ago today, I sat in JR's english class. It was the morning after the Oakland Hills fire. As a number of students were talking about how the fire had affected their plans the night before, JR became noticeably upset and broke down in tears. When a student asked him what was wrong he said "I just can't stop thinking about all those poor people that lost their lives and homes". This moment and his emotion had a profound impact on me and my young view of life. Until this point, I had never viewed teachers as " real people".

I struggled through JR's class that year. It was unlike any other class I had ever been in. Reading the book or doing the assignment wasn't enough, he demanded the same emotion he had shown that day to be shown in all of his student's work.

The following year, to the dismay of many friends, I requested to be transfered INTO JR's english class. Somehow I knew there was so much more to be learned from this great man, and I was right. Amongst many other things, JR taught me how to think for myself, how to dream, and to feel empathy and sympathy for others. His love of literature - Hemingway's economy, Vonnegut's satire, or Fitzgerald's green light- was genuine and inspiring.

I think of JR often and always on this day. Anytime something reminds me of him I see that wonderful smile and hear his honest laugh.
Willie Samuels (Former Student)
October 22nd, 2011
Mr. Friss was the first teacher to help me understand that I had something to say that came from my own voice. Buffeted for years between parental voices that were alternatively narcissistic and depressed, I wallowed in emotional invisibility. Mr. Friss (I don't know why, after all these years, I still can't just call him "Dick") read my first piece of writing my Junior year and said to me (I'll never forget), "Where have you been hiding?" For that year, and the year that followed, I felt—for the first time--listened to, and that I had sometime to say that was worth listening to. As the assignments rolled on, I found myself invited to read what I had written to my peers—who listened in a way that has left an indelible mark on me. I think I became a Preacher partly because of that experience of sharing with others something deep, sensitive, and hidden that nevertheless becomes intimate by being shared. Maybe a part of what the Incarnation means is that God made Himself vulnerable to listening to us with an intimacy that dwarfs and transcends mere majesty, elevating suppliants and servants into friends and lovers.
Much later, after a few years of being an empowered listener as a priest, I became an English teacher at an independent school in Houston. Only then did I discover what it means to crawl into a students' larval work and help birth it the way I had experienced birth and re-birth through Mr. Friss' patient editorial tutelage. Even now, having returned to the priesthood (while still teaching), I feel the call I learned from my high-school Virgilian "ciccerone" to invite my pupils, peers, and fellow-disciples experience what only they can discover, leaving me behind in wonder.
Mr. Friss was a dear father-figure who, like a good father, never forced his charges to limit themselves by imitating him; instead, he opened doors for others to discover themselves and, like all effective catalysts, disappear in their wake. I remember and pray for him, as I know he remembers and prays for us.
Chris Bowhay (Student)
March 30th, 2011
...he introduced me to Felix Hoenikker, Peter and Jerry and Jake Barnes. That alone is worthy of commemoration, but who could ever forget the little notes in the side colums? I swear to it I wrote nothing but nonsense in those daily journals, maybe even trying to antagonize Dick, but he never once chastised and even found worthiness in my digressions. Love you Mr. Friss.
Matt Burris (student)
March 21st, 2011
Dick was a great teacher. I was recently looking to make contact and was saddened to hear of his passing. For the last year or so he has been popping in my head randomly. I know it is because great teachers have a lasting impression and Dick was one of the greats.I have Fond memories of Dick getting us to create a quote to put on the wall for all to see. Those folks in the class room photo were my classmates class of 92. We all loved him!
Thank you Dick!
Dan Bennett
Class of 92
Dan Bennett (former student)
February 14th, 2011
Mr. Friss was my English teacher at Northgate High for several years. I am saddened to have jut discovered his passing. I was just telling my wife tonight what a great teacher he was and one of my 2 favorite teachers I had while in high school. In fact, it was this very discussion this evening that prompted me to google him, see what he was up to, and I discovered this memorial page. I always wanted to find a day to go visit him and catch up on life. I wish I would have had the chance. Life is short and reminds us again that you shouldn't wait to reconnect with those who made such an important impact in your life. Richard was a wonderful, positive influence in getting me thru high school, allowed me to be me and was steadfast in encouraging me to pursue my dreams. He exemplified what is best in an educator, a humanist, and a compassionate soul who could move people's hearts and minds to make a real and lasting difference in our lives. I've been thru the Army, College, Grad School and for the past 14 years the Founder and Chief Designer Officer of a multi-million dollar company. It was Richard's belief in the best in me that helped believe in myself. He was a remarkable man and the world would be a much better place with more like him. Richard's attitude and inspiration influenced me thru the years to try and be as much of a positive force in people's lives as he was in mine. He will be missed. I wish I could have seen him one last time. My best regards to his family.

-Patrick Ma
San Francisco, CA
Patrick Ma (Student)
September 25th, 2010
Dick was a positive force and an all around fascinating person, quick to smile and give encouragement to his students, taking the kind of time and tender attention to detail with them that can make a difference for an entire lifetime. I am so sorry to hear of his passing.
Joan Stepp Smith (Student)
August 1st, 2010
Mr. Friss was my best teacher and one of the most important people in my development. When I was in his Junior English class in 1987, I can’t say that I loved how he challenged my prejudices and exhorted me to think. I liked him enough to become his Teacher’s Aide the following year. While I served him in the tasks of recording grades, punching holes in photocopies and similar, I had the chance to share my life and receive his wisdom and support. More than just offering wisdom, Mr. Friss gave me my self as he affirmed who I was and invited me to become as loving, caring, and sensitive as I could.

We kept in touch during my college years, post college, and while I was in graduate school. In 1999, my wife Erin and I invited him to participate in our wedding mass in a unique way. Eucharist is a central part of our life in faith and we invited a few special people – who have incarnated Christ for us – to present the communion elements. Mr. Friss brought forth the bread on a beautiful, yet simple ceramic plate. It was appropriate for him to give this gift to me and my partner as Mr. Friss had already nourished me in so many ways. This plate is now a family heirloom which I’ve used recently in a weekly communion service.

JR and I stayed in touch via email over the last couple of years. This was a critical time for me as I lost my job and then discerned I would follow my ministerial calling in a new way. In the anxious days last spring when I awaited whether many things would come together to allow me to attend seminary, JR was there with and for me. He emailed me words and songs of hope which strengthened and encouraged me. And he celebrated when I enrolled in seminary last fall and completed my first year this past spring. I miss his emails and the support and love he gave me over the past 23 years. I am blessed and made better by his life and for this I am deeply grateful. In my role today as a teacher, father, and minister, I hope I can embody the love, compassion, acceptance, courage, and generosity that characterized JR’s life with me and so many others.

Rick Kohut
Rick Kohut (Student & Friend)
July 29th, 2010
Dick and I met in the summer of 1987, at the Bay Area Writing Project's summer seminar at UC Berkeley. I don't have a story about Dick, just a very powerful impression that has lasted all these years. Everyone in that seminar was a gifted writing teacher, and we had a great time writing and learning from one another that summer. Dick was certainly both intelligent and gifted, but for me, he exuded something even more important -- a kindness, a gentleness that was palpable and powerful. And now, 23 years later, when I have forgotten the names of most of the seminar's participants, I still remember and honor Dick Friss and his great kindness.
Jim Quay (an admirer)
July 26th, 2010
Mr. Friss was my English teacher as a Junior at Northgate High. I did the unthinkable my senior year and changed my schedule in order to have him my Senior year for English, as well (1984-86). I still find myself evaluating my writing by seeing little, "fluffy" sheep in the columns. Based on his expectations, I was able to pass the AP English test that year without even taking the AP English class. He pushed me to believe in myself, think critically and question everything. He made me angry as often as he made me elated. I valued his opinion more than any other teacher I ever had. Now, as I spend my days in a middle school in Montana, I can only hope to influence students the same way he did me.
Michelle (Hilverda) Rice (former student)
July 26th, 2010
I had Mr. Friss for English III at Northgate in 1985-86. He truly taught me how to write, think critically and take responsibility for my education. I cannot think of a teacher that ever taught me more. His class was always engaging, and he certainly did not suffer fools. I remembemer he had a little VW Rabbit with the licence plate "POOLPAH" which is from a Vonnegut novel, "Cat's Cradle." It means "Wrath of God" or "Shit Storm." He defined it as the latter. He submitted it to test the psychologists at the DMV to see if they would/could catch it and if they would deem it inappropriate. He was very proud that he slipped it by them. I loved his sense of humor, as well as his intellect. His retirement was a monumental loss, as is his passing. I hope that the knowledge of the gratitude felt by thousands of former students, allows his family to feel a sense of pride and support as they mourn. He was a great man, and I think of him often. My thoughts and prayers go out.
Tom Johnson (Former Student)
July 26th, 2010
I had Mr. Friss for freshman English at Northgate in 1980-1, again in my junior year, and for Journalism my senior year.

Of all the teachers I have ever had, including those at college and later law school, I cannot think of one who taught me more than Mr. Friss. He was tough with his grades and sometimes with discipline in his class room, but always fair, explaining what you did wrong or what you did right. His having us keep our own journal which more or less forced me to write about something every day, was a vechicle that showed me a creative side that I didn't really know I had before. By the time I was a senior, I used this type of writing in a column in our school newspaper and even ending up winning a schoolastic journalism award from the Contra Costa Times.

The skills he taught me, both in writing and interpreting the meaning of novels, etc., have helped me through college, law school and even now as a lawyer. I owe a great deal to Mr. Friss and have often wondered how he was doing over the years since I graduated high school. My sympathies go out to his family and loved ones.

Brian Momsen
Ukiah, CA
Brian Momsen (Former Student)
July 26th, 2010
I had Mr. Friss during my junior year (83) at Northgate and quite enjoyed his class. There was no one better at the school in my book for English. Mr. Friss had the love of the books and English and taught us plenty. I remember having to keep a journal that allowed us to practice our writing. I remember reading some classics during his class and having to discuss them. Catcher in the Rye and Inherit the Wind to name a couple of them.

Thank you Dick Friss for sharing your love with the students at Northgate. Thank you for making us better people. May your family find peace and joy in knowing the lives you have touched throughout your teaching career.
John Knecht (Student)
July 26th, 2010
I had the pleasure of teaching with Dick at Northgate High School. He was an excellent teacher and a taskmaster. He got the most out of his students, and they respected him for his diligence. I would often hear students say that they had learned so much in his class.

On a personal note, I remember Dick as a district reader for student competency and composition. One morning I walked into school, and Dick was sitting at his desk. He looked up, and said, "Is Gina Alioto your daughter?" I replied "Yes," and wondered why he had asked. He looked at me and said, "Your daughter is a very good writer." That made my day. My daughter traveled extensively, and would write blogs to family and friends. They would usually say, "She writes so well." And, I would say, "I know, because Dick Friss told me so."

We're sorry to be unable to attend. We've committed to a wedding that day. We'll be there in spirit.

Santo and Jan Alioto
Santo Alioto (colleague)
July 19th, 2010
Dick was passionate about imparting life long learning which was attested by the many graduated students that returned to thank him for what he had taught them and to discuss their college work with him. It was my privledge to have workd with Dick and his legacy lives on in the lives of the students he taught and in the lives of the colleagues who worked with him.
Joanne Haukland (colleague)
July 18th, 2010
I really can't believe that he is gone. I am Diane Goffinet, Richard's niece who lives in Carbondale, Illinois. In my adult years he and I became really very close through the advent of email. We talked almost every day, most days just a sentence or two, and that level of communication really brought us together. He was so proud of me and my children and that always made me feel special. I am an attorney who represents only low income people and he loved that I see my job as not just a career but my vocation. He loved to hear stories about my boys, Aaron and Xander, and their antics with school, soccer and life in general. I helped he and his sister, Georgia, maintain contact even though she did not have a computer. They were both stubborn as mules about their relationship sometimes, but they loved each other very much and had a lifetime of life experience together just growing up in the depression. Each day when I check my email I still expect to see something from him...but I am glad he is in a better place. We love you - GUD (the nickname my brother gave him when my kids were born - Great Uncle Dude)!!
Diane Goffinet (niece)
July 16th, 2010
I have known Rich for about 64 years, which means that we shared many teenage experiences .Maybe that helped cement ourlong time friendship that has endured despite thousands of miles of physical separation.Our hours long face-to-face discussions of problems, wishes,aspirations and families gave way to written correspondence when I was away at university and again when we were both in the service.We were reunited periodically by his visits to St. Louis and my visit tyo California.E-Mail helped tie these events together. I used to sign off my snail mail with"your ever lovin buddie, George".About a month before his final illness I remembered this and signed an E-Mail in this manner.It promptede a response of "MY GAWD !" from Rich followed by his admission that it struck a warm chord and reminded him of our close ties.I am ver glad that I I used this old sign off as this was one of the last of our communications.
His passing has diminished my quality of life.I shall miss him terribly and I will NEVER forget the "buddie" I met so many, many years ago!

George Stearns
O Fallon, Missouri
George Stearns (Friend)
July 13th, 2010
I met Dick when I took his poetry class at Mt. Diablo High School. The reason I took the class, not being interested in poetry at all, was that he carried an umbrella. I didn't know one single person who actually carried an umbrella, let alone used one. It was a good call on my part. I actually learned the mechanics of poetry and was able to write some that were not too lame. And he was fascinating.

He also had donuts in his classroom in the morning, and eventually let a couple of us borrow his car to go get the donuts at the bakery when we showed up early and he hadn't picked any up.

We tried so diligently to get him to marry my mother and the two of them just laughed at our attempts to play matchmakers. When I was going through a particularly bad patch with a boyfriend, he was able to show me that breaking up, though hard, was the best thing to do since neither one of us was going to change appreciably in the near future and we were totally wrong for each other. He saved me from pining over a good choice, lol. When I needed clear thinking he was able to show me the way through the morass of problems to a clear solution. He cared. And he showed it.

He was a frequent visitor to our house at holidays. We had about 20 people who would show up to have holiday meals. All of us went to St. Francis de Sales Cathedral to the 10:30 mass in Oakland, California. The time we all went to a mortuary for a Christmas party was a classic experience. One of the group needed to work Christmas Eve and couldn't come to the midnight mass, so we all went and then took a party to him. My present to Dick that evening was an owl made from a pine cone. It was something I had always had, and to me it represented something that Dick always gave me, wisdom.

Another memory I cherish was the day that Dick, another friend of ours and I played hooky from school and went to Port Costa to look at architecture. He gave us excuse passes to get back into our classes when we returned, lol. At the time we had no idea how much trouble we could all get into, but we didn't really care and we had a blast learning about architecture.

One experience I had with Dick was on my 18th birthday. He gave me my first rose, a yellow one, and I have always loved roses since then. He made me feel like a person and a friend rather than a student. I will miss him.

Annette Lessmann (friend/student)
June 13th, 2010
I knew Dick for 30+ years and was a close friend for about 25 of those years. In the early days we would often lunch on Saturdays at Chez Panise or Town's End. A lively conversation was always part of the ritual and though we did disagree, we always found common ground. We were able to share ideas we knew others would either not understand or appreciate.

In later years our conversations were often centered around daily activities of computer and phone operation. Though seemingly mundane, nothing with Dick was boring! There was always the " why?" questions, which could be enlightening or frustrating, depending on my mood. We often challenged each other, but we always remained friends.

I will miss my friend and will think of him often and fondly. How could I not?
Paul Ward (Friend)
June 11th, 2010
This is the memorial I set up for Richard Friss. Whether or not you can attend a service for him, I thought this might be a good way for friends and family to share memories and thoughts. It is my hope that it will create a sense of community and offer a source of comfort during this time. We will be putting together a Memory Book of him for his family. If you feel comfortable sharing on this website, please sign the Guest Book, share a story or photo, or light a candle. To sign the Guest Book, please click on the Sign Guest Book button. If you would like to share your memories privately with the family, please contact me through this website. Whether you use this website, or prefer to share privately, we would really like to hear from you. It would help us to know more fully our family member and friend, and help us create a Memory Book to keep. Thank you for visiting.
Marina Caruso
June 4th, 2010
26 entries
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"Over the years, I have often told my children the story of Mr. Friss and the importance of discipline and excellence in writing. He was one of my greatest influences in high school. His passion, which was often voiced as harsh criticism, was a gift."
James Dubow
August 18th, 2018
"There were, for me, 3 life-altering teachers at MDHS. Mr Friss was one. As my younger kids have gone through high school (twins - now entering their Senior Year at CPHS) I have thought about him more and more frequently. Thanks for bringing this to m"
Brian Seibel
August 6th, 2016
"Mr. Friss, you were my favorite teacher. You changed my life, made me think for myself, awoke my political voice, encouraged & inspired me. I incorporate much of what you taught me into my own teaching. I sorely wish I could've thanked you again. <3"
Lori Ziegler Halt
June 24th, 2014
"We are thinking of you today, as we do each day. I really miss our e-mails and the love, support and interest you showed as a Grandfather and Father in these last years. It meant so very, very much to me. I love you, Dad."
Marina Caruso
September 30th, 2010
"Oh Mr Friss how we butted heads! You knew I had potential somewhere inside of me. I still have the purple piece of paper you gave me with one word on it "verve". You told me I had it and to never forget it. Thank you - you are missed"
chrissy winslow-anderson
September 27th, 2010
"I had Mr. Friss for english in the 80's. I learned so much from him that even all these years later I still benefit from the lessons. He was a great teacher. May God Bless your family."
Denise Lynch
July 25th, 2010
"I love you and miss hearing from you every day!! I loved the uncle/niece relationship we developed in my adult years and you were the best GUD (great uncle dude)!!"
Diane Goffinet
July 16th, 2010
"We will miss you and will never forget you, dear friend. George and Joan Stearns"
George Stearns
July 13th, 2010
"We miss you more than we could ever possibly say."
Marina Caruso
June 9th, 2010


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