Four years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, my dad died. Considering how little time I’ve spent in this tiny speck the Interwebs, the fact that I've actually mentioned his passing once is notable. It was nearly 17 months ago, on what would have been his 76th birthday, and before I clicked “Publish” on that post (just a couple entries back), I wrote several thousand other words that ultimately I decided did not fit that moment, for me, on his birthday, at that time. So, I saved them in the digital bowels of my computer.
And now, I’ve done it again: Thousands of more words about him, his life through my eyes, my life in relation to his, and of course, the peaks and valleys of our never-estranged but always complicated relationship.
None of those words exist in this post, but for some reason, this year more than any before—including when he died in 2016—commemorating my dad today, on the anniversary of his death, became imperative. For years now, if I missed a self-imposed deadline to post on this silent website, I would move on. My “Drafts” folder is enormous, and included therein are those thousands of words about Stephen Dobbs.
So on this fourth anniversary of his death, and with the full intent of publishing many (if not all) of those other still-not-ready-for-prime-time thoughts, I decided to memorialize him in the most straightforward way I could while still utilizing my own words.
When my family needed to submit an obituary to the Bay Area publications most central to his life—specifically the San Francisco Chronicle, Marin Independent Journal, and the J Weekly—I volunteered to give it a first pass. After some edits by my stepmother and one of my brothers, the final published version was not so different.
However, what I wrote initially, I wrote for myself and my dad almost more than for anyone else. I wrote it in a manner and containing elements that I believed he would have appreciated; little personal touches that likely possessed more meaning for me than others. My draft needed trimming for length, and therefore, many of those bits of color fell to the cutting room floor.
I’m not sure why I didn’t post my version here in 2016 when I wrote it. In fact, I never considered doing so until this morning when I realized that I would not finish the piece I was writing about him today.
One final note: My dad was a control freak, so of course, he had prepared his own obituary years earlier. It served as useful background for listing the various organizations with which he was involved. He also selected the photo he wanted to use, which offers an unfortunate, but accurate, example of his fashion sense and (I suppose) expresses the reality of his vanity since—as that tie illustrates—this is a photo from the last century. Nevertheless, it fits.
Therefore, with that preamble behind us and several minimal edits since I first wrote it two days after he died, I offer my Final Cut: The (mostly) unabridged version of the obituary of Stephen Mark Dobbs.
Stephen Mark Dobbs of San Rafael passed away on October 25, 2016. He took great pride in all of his life’s roles: Father, grandfather, son, brother, uncle, scholar, educator, writer, historian, volunteer, and community leader, to name a few.
Born on June 5, 1943 in San Francisco, he was the eldest son of Harold and Annette Dobbs. He is survived by wife Victoria and their sons Joshua Levi Rusty Dobbs, Gabriel Victor Dobbs, and Noah Seth Jefferson Dobbs; son Aaron Marc Dobbs, wife Marissa, and grandchildren Ruby Madge Seinfeld Dobbs and Elijah Chaim Seinfeld Dobbs; and siblings Marilyn Dobbs Higuera, Gregory Allan Dobbs, and Cathy Dobbs Goldstein, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Throughout his life, Stephen doggedly pursued his passions with curiosity and rigor. An Eagle Scout and graduate of Lick-Wilmerding High School, Stephen studied philosophy, history, education, and the arts at Stanford University, earning his Ph.D. in 1972. For the first part of his career, he focused on academia, primarily as a professor of arts and humanities at San Francisco State University. He also served stints as a visiting professor or scholar at Harvard, Stanford, University of London, University of Washington, and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
In the late-‘80s, Stephen turned his attention towards a second career in the philanthropic world. As Senior Program Officer at the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, he literally wrote the book on the Getty Center’s influential Discipline-based Art Education program.
In 1989, Stephen became Executive Director of San Francisco’s Koret Foundation, and two years later, he was named President & CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, which he ran for seven years.
A workaholic by nature and practice, Stephen never slowed down, always juggling several simultaneous projects. For most of the past two decades, Stephen pursued a variety of writing interests and community engagement while continuing his work in the philanthropic community. He served as executive director of Taube Philanthropies, executive vice president of the Bernard Osher Foundation, and until recently, he remained a consultant to several private family foundations, including the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation and the John & Lisa Pritzker Family Fund. He authored and/or contributed to a number of books on education, leadership, non-profit management, and history.
For over 40 years, he volunteered and held leadership positions in the Jewish and broader Bay Area communities. He served as president of the Mount Zion Health Fund, One Act Theater Company, and Brandeis-Hillel Day School; as a vice president of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and the Bureau of Jewish Education; and as a member of the boards of directors of the Jewish Community Federation, American Jewish Committee, Goldman Institute on Aging, Lighthouse fort the Blind, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and San Francisco State University Foundation.
Stephen possessed an unquenchable thirst for reading and learning. An avid fan of biography and historical memoir, he held a particular fascination for the history of his hometown and the Jewish community. During his initial tenure at San Francisco State, he taught a popular course on San Francisco history course. Twenty years after leaving the classroom, he returned to resume leading this single class. Friends and acquaintances would catch a glimpse of “Professor Dobbs” when driving virtually anywhere in the Bay Area; at some point, he would direct their attention to some point of reference and offer a nearly comprehensive lesson on its background and importance.
Stephen’s family gives special thanks for the wonderful care provided by Dr. James Davis and Dr. Georges Naasan. Per Stephen’s wishes, the family will hold a private memorial gathering. Contributions in Stephen’s memory may be sent to the Harold Dobbs Cancer Research Fund of Mount Zion Health Fund or the charity of your choice.