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.