Of all of the descriptions applied to veteran Piner High School English teacher Dick Latimer – scholar, mentor, friend, gentleman, confidante – longtime friend and teacher Pam Devlin of Santa Rosa said a character from a classic work of fiction most aptly describes a man who spent more than three decades in the classroom before spending his retirement years volunteering for underserved communities and giving legal advice to seniors: Atticus Finch.
"He was just the embodiment of a good man," Devlin said of Latimer, who died Friday after a long battle with congestive heart disease. "He was the good teacher we all aspired to be. He was a wonderful balance of being incredibly bright and incredibly caring and magnanimous. He was really about service and serving others whether it was in the classroom or the community."
Richard Warren Latimer was born Aug. 13, 1934 in Chicago to Nita and Horace Latimer. When he was 3 months old, the family moved west to California – transporting young Dick in a laundry basket.
He graduated from Vallejo High and went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of San Francisco and a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
As a senior at USF, Latimer was teaching catechism classes when he met a student at the women's college, who was also teaching young students. The couple married on Aug. 20, 1960.
"We met teaching catechism class, so I always thought it was a marriage made in heaven," said Maureen Latimer of Santa Rosa, Dick's wife of 53 years.
The couple moved to Santa Rosa in 1961 when Dick Latimer took a teaching job at Santa Rosa High School. In 1966, Piner High School opened and Latimer became the school's first ever English department chairman.
Ilene Traverso of Occidental was hired by Latimer when she first joined the Piner English staff in 1971.
Traverso remembered a trusted colleague who could be turned to for thoughtful advice, but also a teacher who hosted Renaissance days on campus and wore full costume – including tights.
"He did not take himself so seriously that his dignity would be threatened by appearing in tights," she said.
Latimer was active in the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, holding the president's post as well as being a longtime member of the negotiating team. He was also active in getting his colleagues spots at statewide professional conferences where teachers would learn new classroom tools, inspired curriculum and engaging techniques, colleagues said.
As a leader in the union during the strike in 1980, Latimer led with grace and navigated a tricky time with compassion, Traverso recalled.
"Everyone could get really emotional about it and sometimes get personal. He would listen to everybody, he would argue his point and he would counter others – always graciously, always polite, never stooping to getting personal," she said.
Longtime friend, colleague and global travel companion Jim Dunwoody called Latimer "a diplomat."
"Dick was adamant in what he believed, but I don't think he ever rubbed people the wrong way," he said. "Dick was just a wonderful person to be with."
"He could handle all kinds of classes," Traverso said. "He just had so much compassion and understanding; he wouldn't put a kid on the spot. He would quietly help them like he quietly helped us."