Thomas R. Griffin, a longtime Petaluma middle-school math teacher, died Friday. He was 95.
Griffin grew up in what was then a rural area of San Francisco near Daly City where his Irish-immigrant parents owned an acre of land, enough for the family to keep a horse.
As a toddler, Griffin escaped the worldwide influenza epidemic that claimed three of his siblings. He went on to attend Catholic schools and was the first in his family to finish college. He graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1938.
The Depression was then still gripping the economy, and Griffin began his career at a country school in Truckee, far from from friends and family.
Teaching was an immediate and lifelong love, one he quit only reluctantly. He retired in his 70s with the unofficial distinction as “the oldest teacher in Sonoma County,” his son John recalls.
“I remember the first year or two after he retired, you could just see in his eyes, ‘The bell’s ringing right now, I should be teaching,’ ” the younger Griffin said.
For his seven children, Griffin’s love of education was hard to miss while they were growing up. Road trips and dinner were favorite times for math drills and getting second servings often required rattling off answers to dad’s questions, John said.
Each of the seven kids went on to college, many getting advanced degrees and several becoming teachers themselves.
“He was very proud of all of us,” John Griffin said.
Griffin’s love of education was rooted in a curiosity that never expired, his family said.
In the 70s and 80s, he used his son John’s position at the time as a flight attendant to fly cheaply all over the world, traveling with little more than a sawed-off toothbrush and the clothes on his back, which he’d wash at night.
He’d approach anyone and introduce himself as from Petaluma, which could make traveling a frustration for those worried about things like catching trains, John said. “He’d just stop and talk to people without any good reason,” John said. “He was just curious about meeting people.”