Career Sonoma County public-schools educator Bob Stanley assumed all manner of roles in life, all of them with verve, humor and exacting expectations.
Most recently the principal of Whited Elementary in Santa Rosa’s Rincon Valley, Stanley worked long days on campus, then took his place on stage as a veteran actor with several North Bay theater companies. He was also a youth mentor, a teller of tales of unverifiable veracity, a genuine pub personality and an entertaining, high-impact husband, father and grandfather.
“I don’t know if I’m a natural actor,” he told The Press Democrat’s Dan Taylor in 2000, “but I’m probably a natural grandpa.”
Stanley died Tuesday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, nearly four days after he suffered apparent cardiac arrest as he pushed his walker following a session with friends at a favorite Bennett Valley watering hole. He was 83.
“He had so many good, good friends,” said his wife of 37 years, Kathie Stanley. “He had all these stories; whether they were true or not didn’t matter.”
“One friend just told me that if Bob really did all he said he did, he’d have been 800 years old.”
Not in doubt is that from the days of his childhood in Redlands, in San Bernardino County, through to his collapse Friday evening at Ricardo’s Bar & Grill, Stanley lived with gusto and elevated the lives of many, among them the kids in the classes he taught or the schools he oversaw.
Kathie Stanley said it happened often that if the rules didn’t technically allow for her husband to take the actions necessary to serve a student or family, he would adjust the rules. “He made sure kids got what they needed to get,” she said.
Robert Powell Stanley was born Nov. 14, 1933, in Redlands and grew up there, alongside orange groves his family managed. He found his love of acting at Redlands High School, where he also played football.
He graduated in 1951 and a short time afterward served with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He prepared for a career in education at San Francisco State College and at San Jose State College, earning a master’s degree from the latter in 1967.
Stanley found his first school job as a teacher in Gilroy. He also threw himself into the theater scene in that part of Santa Clara County. He and his first wife, the former Pat Gammel, reared three sons born in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The family moved to Sonoma County in 1970, when Bob Stanley took a job as principal of what was then Rincon Elementary. He was hired by the late Douglas Whited, who served for 37 years as superintendent of the Rincon Valley Union School District and for whom the school was later renamed.
A newspaper story in 1971 called Stanley “a man on the go,” noting that he was rarely in his office and usually was assisting or observing in a classroom or interacting with students on the playground or in the auditorium.
“That was so true,” Kathie Stanley said. She said that to be actively, integrally involved with the students was foremost to him, and that it was the isolating effects of increasing bureaucratic demands on school administrators that prompted him to retire in 1990, at age 57.