DeathsJohn Tuomy, former Palo Alto educator and school board member, dies
by Eric Van Susteren
John Tuomy, a former Palo Alto teacher who served for eight years on the Palo Alto Board of Education, died Nov. 30 after suffering fatal injuries from a fall off a ladder on Nov. 28. He was 66.
He was born in Spokane, Wash., and moved to Palo Alto with his family in 1949. He went to Besse Bolton's Nursery School and Elizabeth Van Auken Elementary School. He attended Jordan Junior High and then Palo Alto High School.
After briefly attending Foothill College and the University of Oregon, he transferred to San Jose State University, where he studied political science. In 1968 he became on intern for former U.S. Rep. Don Edwards and worked with the Mexican-American Political Association and the residents of east San Jose.
After 18 months at Golden Gate University Law School, he decided to stop studying law and discovered an interest in teaching through tutoring at his wife's school.
"I'd go home and think about it, and think about different ways to get through to the kids," he told the Palo Alto Weekly in 1998. "It was one of the first jobs I'd ever done that I really enjoyed doing, and I couldn't believe people got paid to do it."
He attained his teaching credential in the early 1970s and student-taught in east San Jose and then at the Barron Park Elementary School in Palo Alto during a time when teaching jobs were scarce. He was then hired at Palo Verde Elementary School, and after five years he was offered a position at the district's gifted program and eventually a spot as its computer coordinator.
"It was before Apple, even," he said. "We were timesharing on the district's HP 2008. I'd finish teaching, and I'd spend hours at the computer."
In 1977 he administered a $250,000 federal grant to teach children how to tutor each other on computers. In 1979 he left the district for the private sector to better support his family. After a series of jobs in the tech industry, he became vice president of sales and marketing for Leemah Datacom Security Corp. in 1988 and became CEO in 1990.
But he didn't leave education behind. He fought against the proposed closure of Gunn High School in 1988 and served as co-chair, along with Carolyn Tucher, of the committee that put helped pass the "Building for Excellence" school bond in 1995. After the bond passed, he reluctantly ran for school board. He served two terms, ending in 2003.
"He knew what he was signing up for," said Tucher, referring to his already busy schedule as a father and businessman. "He wanted to make sure he followed through on the commitments we made for the bond, and he really cared about education from making a career in it for as long as he did."
Tucher said his background as a teacher, his knowledge of technology and his deep love for the community made him uniquely qualified for the job of school board member.
"Often his test for decisions would be 'What would my father think of this? How would this sound to a longtime Palo Altan, and how would it affect them?'" Tucher said.
On the board he built a reputation as someone with strong opinions who always spoke his mind.
"There was nothing wimpy about John, but he was good-hearted," she said. "I think being straightforward was a good quality, and when all was said and done he would play with the team."
Tucher said Tuomy, who lived for years in the Greenmeadow neighborhood of Palo Alto, also ran for the school board to represent the place he lived.
"South Palo Alto has half the kids in the district, but there aren't many board members from those parts," Tucher said. "He felt that his neighborhoods weren't as well-represented for no other reason than that they didn't run for the board."
School Board President Camille Townsend expressed in a press release the impact of his death on the school district.
"John Tuomy loved this school district and he wanted the best for its students. His boisterous advocacy came with a thoughtful analysis and a willingness to put his shoulder into the work ahead. He focused on the future. We will miss him as a friend and as a leader," she stated.
Tucher spoke highly of Tuomy's dedication to his family. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, a technology trainer for the Palo Alto Unified School District; his daughter, Erin Mershon, and son-in-law, Geoffrey Mershon, of Palo Alto; his son, Brian Tuomy, a teacher at Gunn High School, and daughter-in-law, Ariane Tuomy, of Redwood City; sister, Elizabeth Rundell of Palo Alto; sister-in-law, Susan Custer of Mountain View; nephews, Doyle Rundell of Menlo Park, Travis and Jordan Rundell of San Francisco; and granddaughters, Amanda and Leah Mershon.
Services will be held Friday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, 670 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto. It will be public, Brian Tuomy said.
Annabelle Most Markoff, an innovator in the field of early childhood education, died Dec. 2 in Davis, Calif. She was 91.
An elementary school teacher before and during the early years of her marriage, she raised three children and then attended graduate school in special education during the late 1960s in a newly created joint program between San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley.
She had initially returned to work in the field of education in 1963 when, as a Palo Alto housewife married to pianist Mortimer Markoff, she was invited by the local school district to teach in a new federally funded program aimed at teaching children with average IQs who were failing in school. Although she was part of a broader movement of women returning to the workforce during the '60s, initially she did so without a political agenda and with a good deal of trepidation.
"I hadn't yet joined the group of women who saw work outside the home as liberating," she wrote. "Although I was very excited by the challenge of the new task, I was troubled not only by my inadequacy, but by the loss of close contact with my children in this so important early part of their lives."
Entering graduate school on two campuses that were then wracked by student unrest, she would go on to become an educator who was instrumental in helping foster an educational movement that redefined the focus of "learning disabilities" from the individual student to include the teacher, classroom, family and community.
She joined the faculty at San Francisco State University in 1972 as an assistant professor in the Special Education Department. In 1976 she became an assistant professor in the San Jose State University Department of Special Education. Throughout her career she consulted both inside the U.S. and internationally and in 1979, with several of her colleagues, she founded the Annabelle Markoff School in Belmont, Calif., to apply her teaching ideas to children with learning disabilities.
She authored a number of diagnostic tests to inventory children's reading skills and published two books: "Teaching low-achieving children reading, spelling, and handwriting: Developing perceptual skills with the graphic symbols of language" (1976) and "Within Reach: Academic Achievement Through Parent-Teacher Communication" (1992). In 1988 financial industry executive Charles Schwab and his wife Helen financed the creation of the Parents Educational Resource Center, and Markoff became the founding director. She retired in 1993.
She was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 1921, the third child of Bernard Most and Bertha Salzman. Her father owned a small hat business, which failed during the Great Depression and her mother died when Markoff was 12. In high school her classmates included Jack Webb, the movie actor.
She attended college at the University of California at Los Angeles. During college and afterwards she was active in a variety of politically progressive organizations. In Palo Alto she served on the boards of both the Coop Market and the Jewish Community Center.
She is survived by a son, John, and daughter, Ellen, both of San Francisco, Calif.; a daughter, Joan, of Sacramento; and two grandchildren, Hannah and Matthew.
Lucy Smith, a longtime Palo Alto resident, died Nov. 1.
She was born in San Francisco on May 10, 1923, to Arthur and Elizabeth Allen. She attended Commodore Sloat Elementary School, Aptos Junior High School and George Washington High School. Her college years were spent at Pomona, where she earned a bachelor's degree, and Smith College for a master's degree in education and child study.
While at Pomona she met and married her first husband, Arthur Mallette. He did not return from the war, so she was left a young widow.
Her first job was at Stanford Village Nursery School. A 1947 Stanford Daily article describes her as having "a gay and festive mood." She replied, "Maybe it's because I love to be with children — to help them.... You can learn a lot from children just by watching them and listening to what they say."
During her time at Stanford she met Hawley Smith and they were married in March of 1948. They had three children together. She spent many years raising them before returning to work outside her home.
She worked at the Preschool Family Program (Palo Alto High School Adult Education) from 1961 to 1982. After retiring she continued substitute teaching until 1992.
She was active in the Palo Alto Garden Club and especially Gamble Garden. She loved working with the Roots and Shoots Program for Walter Hays 3rd graders.
She is survived by her daughter, Catherine Calbreath; and her sons, Dan and Stevo Smith. She also had three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto. Although she adored flowers, she requested that donations please be contributed to St. Mark's or Gamble Garden.
Virginia Hall Stalder
Virginia Hall Stalder, a longtime former resident of Palo Alto, died Nov. 25 near her English holly farm in Beavercreek, Ore., at the age of 87.
Born Jan. 20, 1925, in Salisbury, N.C., to Hallie Shaver and John Floyd Hall, she grew up in Salisbury and Woodleaf, attending Salisbury and Woodleaf public schools and Catawba College, where she graduated with a degree in physics.
Upon graduation from Catawba she was employed by NACA, the predecessor of NASA, at Langley Field, Va. Shortly thereafter, seeking adventure, she transferred to Ames Research Lab at Moffett Field. She advanced to the position of "head computer" before the advent of calculators and mainframe computers.
At Ames she met and married Jackson R. Stalder, an aeronautical research engineer. She continued to work for various firms on the San Francisco Peninsula while raising three children, an unusual achievement for women in the 1950s.
In 1964 the two purchased an English holly farm in Beavercreek, Ore. Jackson passed away in 1968 and Virginia managed and developed Beavercreek Farms — purveyors of fine English holly seasonal gifts — for 48 years. When asked why she was once again making the annual trek to Beavercreek at the age of 87, she replied "to make a few people happy." She appreciated her holly customers and treasured providing jobs for her loyal and talented seasonal workers.
She is survived by her children, Suellen Stalder (James Corrie) of Berkeley, Barbara Allen (Judson Allen, deceased) of Palo Alto and Kenneth R. Stalder (Patricia Nassos) of Redwood City; three grandchildren, two nieces and numerous cousins. Private services were held at Beavercreek Farms in November.