October 2, 2018 – Richard Fred Toothman passed away on Saturday September 22nd . He died at age 67 from a heart attack and liver failure brought on by alcoholism. A bright star extinguished too early by a pernicious disease.

Rich Toothman was born in Boise, Idaho on June 22, 1951, the son of Richard (Dick) Toothman and Esther Smith. He was the youngest of four children, with three older sisters, Deanna, Karen and Peggy. His parents came from hard scrabble rural poverty and raised themselves by their bootstraps.

Shortly after Rich was born, his family moved to Elko, Nevada. Dick Toothman and his partner Dan Bilbao bought the Stockmen’s Hotel and Casino in Elko. One of the vivid memories for Rich of his early years in Elko was when the hotel burned to the ground and the family had to struggle to rebuild. The family succeeded and Dick Toothman became a very successful and prominent community leader in Elko.

During Rich’s childhood, Elko was a small and tight-knit community in the high desert of northeastern Nevada. Rich played in the desert behind his family home and often hunted with his father who was an avid hunter. Rich did well in school and was well liked. He received his Elko High School diploma in 1969, handed to him by his father, who was the president of the Elko School District Board.

One of the highlights of his adolescence was a trip to Europe at age 15 with his sister Peggy. Though a college woman, she brought her kid brother along and the adventure ensued. The two siblings had an extraordinarily close love and friendship that sustained Rich throughout his life.

Rich went to college at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. He mostly used his time at St. Mary’s to mature and make life-long friends. He graduated in 1973 with a liberal arts degree. He then decided to be teacher like his sister Peggy. He went back to St. Mary’s and received his teaching credential in 1974. Initially he taught in Oakland but then moved up to Nevada County, where his parents had purchased an 80-acre farm in Rough and Ready, CA. He went to work for Youth Self Help, a non-profit focusing on programs for young people.

In 1977, Rich met Scott Browne, a promising young attorney in Grass Valley. They fell in love and in 1978 moved in together. It was the beginning of Rich’s life-long relationship with Scott.

Though they could not marry at the time, they were committed to each other. In 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same sex marriage violated the state constitution’s requirement of equal protection under the law, they hastily threw together a wedding on two-week’s notice. It was a memorable event, an outdoor ceremony officiated by Judge Julie McManus, and accompanied by a brief thunderstorm. They were wise to do so, as few months later the voters passed Proposition 8 that once again made same-sex marriage illegal.

In 1978, Rich started work at Ready Springs School in Penn Valley. Initially he worked as a teaching assistant. Eventually, after he proved himself, he was hired as a full-time teacher. In his early years at the school he hid his relationship with Scott, as there had been a state proposition seeking to ban all gay people from teaching in public schools. However, over time, the Ready Springs Community came to accept him as the extraordinary teacher and gay man that he was.

Rich was a natural teacher, teaching second grade for many years at Ready Springs School. He loved playing the guitar and singing with his students. The song “Uncle Walter goes Waltzing with Bears” was a favorite of his students. Rich also worked with the middle school students putting on school theatrical productions such as “HMS Pinafore” and “The Wizard of Oz”.

Rich had a deep loyalty to the young people of Penn Valley. He had multiple opportunities to move to higher paying positions in the better financed school districts. He refused because he knew in his heart that Ready Springs was where he needed to be.

After more than 30 years of teaching at Ready Springs School, Rich finally retired from teaching in 2011. Unfortunately, Rich lost the connection and purpose of helping young people that had been his life’s focus. He gradually withdrew from life, suffering from depression which led to bouts with drinking. His spouse, family and friends did everything they could to help bring him out of it. He participated in four alcohol rehabilitation programs. He just could not overcome the inner pain that drove him to seek oblivion in drinking. It inevitably led to his death, too early at 67.

Rich had a full life, with great friends and family. He travelled extensively, became a great cook and put on many benefit dinner for Music in the Mountains, Rotary and other community organizations. He was an active Grass Valley Rotary club member since 2013.

Rich touched the lives of so many young people. He was beloved and left the world a better place for his being in it.

Rich is survived by his husband of 40 years, Scott Browne, his sister Peggy Payne and her family, multiple nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews. His warmth, smile and easy laughter attracted a large group of close friends as well. We will all miss him tremendously and will hold dear the fun and positive memories we have of him. Rich is beyond pain and is now waltzing with bears.

A Celebration of Rich Toothman’s life will be held November 24, 2018 at the Foothill Event Center. It will be held from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, with a reception after at their home. All who knew Rich are welcome to attend and share their memories of this remarkable man.

8 replies on “Obituary of Richard F. Toothman”

  1. Rich was a truly wonderful teacher. I worked in his class room and both of my sons had him for a teacher. We are all better people for knowing him. All the corny things he did to make the kids listen up and laugh. Like clapping his hands in a circle called it “a round of applause “. He really cared for each child and gave his best. I am sorry for your loss Scott.

  2. I was a student at Ready Springs in the early years when Mr T was an assistant. I had a lot going on my home life as it was pretty chaotic but he always put a smile on my face. He took those extra minutes throughout the day to make me feel safe and happy. He changed my world; he will always be known as THAT one teacher to…yet he never knew how much he meant to me. Yes, later as a young adult I would see him at events and he still could always bring that smile and warmth in my heart and yet I never said thank you. A few years back I was watch a show on teachers that most influenced your life and I felt the need to reach out. The sad part is I’m not sure he ever got my message or letters as I never heard back. So I wanted to share my story with his loved ones as I’m sure so many of his students loved him but to me he was my ‘one teacher’ that forever changed my course in life ❤️ I’m sorry to read the last years of his life but I some how feel he’s at peace with his own demons now….And I know heaven got another angel today as he’s dance around a music circle playing instruments bring smiles to all. Thank you Mr T Rip my great savior -Scotlan Adams

  3. He was such a wonderful man always so nice both my girls Samantha and Maddie Frank’s really liked him he had a truly good heart he will truly be missed. RIP Mr T.

  4. Mr. Toothman. That’s how my daughter and I always referred to him, and always with the utmost respect and appreciation. When we initially moved to Rough and Ready, from the SF Bay Area, it was Mr. Toothman who saw my daughter Heather struggling to fit in and took her under his wing. I will be forever grateful for the kindness, gentle assists, and professionalism with which he embraced her. The greatness of his caring undoubtedly became the saving grace of many others, as well. I wish I had known he was struggling. I too would have reached out, even from across the country. My deepest condolences to you, Scott, and to your families. My world and the world of my daughter is a better place for having known him.

  5. Oh, Scott, I am so sorry to hear of Rich’s death. This obituary is a beautiful way to honor his life. Love to you and the rest of his family.

  6. Very sad to hear this.
    Rich was talented, upbeat, and kind. He was also that rarest of all things – a gentleman.
    I knew him in his younger years, and I can’t recall of a more engaging person to be around. His company was always a pleasure. Sorry to hear his life closed in at the end.

  7. Thank you all for your kind comments. Rich cared deeply for all of his students. I just wish he had cared for himself as much as he did for his kids.

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