The Santa Rosa High School community is grieving the sudden death of a respected science teacher who seemed always in a positive mood and enjoyed mingling with students.

Vince Whitcomb had taught in Santa Rosa City Schools since 2000, including stints at Cook Middle School, and had been at the district's largest high school since 2005. He taught physics, physical science and ArtQuest science.

The 68-year-old was found at home Tuesday night by his wife, Heidi Pelot, who is a counselor at Santa Rosa High.

Whitcomb had scheduled a doctor's appointment for Wednesday after he began experiencing shortness of breath and minor chest pains. Otherwise, he seemed to be in excellent health, said his daughter Willow Pelot-Whitcomb of Los Angeles.

She described her father as a creative and spiritual man who loved writing poetry and playing blues on the harmonica. Born in Brooklyn, Whitcomb was an oceanographer, carpenter and marriage and family therapist prior to embarking on a new career as a teacher.

"He was very easy going, caring and compassionate. He really loved life," said Principal Brad Coscarelli.

Staff members were told of Whitcomb's death at an emergency meeting Wednesday morning. Students were told immediately following that announcement, during third period.

"The mood is one of shock," said veteran Santa Rosa High teacher Andy Brennan, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.

A letter was distributed Wednesday to parents informing them of Whitcomb's death. The school brought a chaplain, additional counselors and therapy dogs to campus, and rooms were made available for both students and staff to grieve.

"The school administration acted very quickly," Brennan said. "When they found out, they immediately put resources in place."

Colleagues recalled a teacher who spent lunch hours sitting in the sun among students and a man who volunteered to chaperone school dances.

"He would go to all of our school dances, which was rare but he loved it," Coscarelli said. "He was young at heart."

Vice Principal Monica Baldenegro said Whitcomb always took time to say hello and catch up. "He was very nice, warm, a loving, down to earth guy," she said.

Whitcomb and his wife were together for nearly 40 years. In addition to his wife and daughter, Whitcomb is survived by a son, Jordan Pelot-Whitcomb, 29, of Emeryville and a brother, Robert Whitcomb.

Staff Writer Derek Moore contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press or on Twitter @benefield.