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Frank Lynch, Petaluma school board member and educator, dies at 71

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Frank Lynch, a life-long educator and Petaluma school board member, died March 6 after a two-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 71.

A native of New York, Lynch first came to Petaluma in the 1980s and served for 10 years as principal of Petaluma High School, one of several stops on a varied 43-year career in education that included stints as a teacher, principal, district superintendent and county superintendent.

Upon retirement, he moved back to Petaluma and won election to the Petaluma Joint Union High School board in 2016. His death leaves a vacancy on the young board, which will be filled with an appointed member until the next election.

A consummate family man, Lynch loved watching his grandkids play sports, his wife, Maureen Lynch, said.

“What the community saw is what we would see at home. He loved his children and grandchildren,” she said. “The community has lost a very caring and compassionate man.”

Born in Queens, New York, Lynch grew up in several states, finally settling in the Bay Area. He attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, where he excelled as a football quarterback and baseball catcher. He went on to play both sports at Santa Clara University, before earning a master’s degree at San Jose State University and a Doctor of Education from University of California, Santa Barbara.

Education was always his passion. He got his first teaching job at Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco, where he also coached football alongside future NFL coach Mike Holmgren and Steve Ellison, who went on to have a long career as Petaluma High School head football coach.

“He was a terrific classroom teacher,” said Ellison, who remained close friends with Lynch for more than 40 years. “We lost a valuable guy. He touched a lot of lives in the community.”

After Sacred Heart, Lynch moved to Carmel, where he taught and coached junior varsity football. Ellison recalled when Lynch arranged to host Sacred Heart’s football team on a trip to play at Carmel. The visiting JV players stayed with families of Carmel players, but the varsity coach didn’t want his players to fraternize with their opponents. So, at the last minute, Lynch decided to host all 35 Sacred Heart players and coaches overnight at his 3-bedroom house, Ellison said.

“That was Frank Lynch. There was no such thing as an obstacle,” he said. “He pulled it off miraculously. He would deal with whatever came up.”

After Ellison moved to Petaluma High School, he told Lynch about the open principal job, which he got in 1985. During his time as principal, Lynch met Maureen, who was working as a consultant to the school district. The two first ran into each other at a reception for an outgoing school board member.

“Our eyes did not move away from each other,” Maureen Lynch said. “It was magic.”

The two were married in 1990. They both had two kids from previous marriages.

The family moved around northern California, following Lynch’s career in school administration. He left Petaluma High School in 1995 to become superintendent of King City Joint Union High School District in Monterey County.

He also served as superintendent of West Sonoma County Union High School District for two years; the interim principal at Berkeley High School; the district and county superintendent of Del Norte County for four years; and the superintendent of Lompoc Unified School District for four years.

In 2011, he returned to Petaluma High School, becoming co-interim principal for one year, and mentoring current Principal David Stirrat.

“Frank was old school in the way we need now more than ever,” Stirrat wrote in an email. “Frank always made your today better than your yesterday, and leaves me now wondering how to make tomorrow better than today. To do that, I’ll have to bring a little more Frank Lynch into the life I lead.”

In retirement, Lynch took up golf, improving his game to a “respectable” level, Ellison said. A devout Catholic, he attended St. Vincent de Paul church. He enjoyed watching the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants, and he started traveling with his wife, visiting Costa Rica and Ireland.

Friendship was important to Lynch, his wife said. Every Friday morning, he gathered in a Petaluma coffee shop with a group of friends they called the Coffee Bros, including Ellison and former Petaluma school board member Mike Baddeley.

“He was always upbeat and positive,” said Baddeley, who served on the board for nine years, including two with Lynch. “He was a great listener and a fountain of knowledge. We’d talk about life, family, and we’d solve the world’s problems. It was really fun having Frank there.”

Baddeley said he was thrilled when Lynch won a seat on the board in the 2016 election, and he brought decades of institutional knowledge to the body. Gary Callahan, Petaluma City Schools District superintendent, said the community is mourning the loss of an education luminary.

“Our PCS family is devastated by the loss of Frank Lynch,” he wrote in an email. “He gave so much to this community and we were all blessed to have worked with him, most recently in his role as a board member. Frank was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He loved Petaluma and cared deeply about our students, staff and parents.”

Lynch and Ellen Webster, who was also elected in 2016, were the longest serving board members, despite only two years experience, after three incumbents were voted out in 2018. Webster, who was a student teacher at Petaluma High when Lynch was principal, said he was great to work with, and he will be hard to replace on the board.

Webster said the board will likely appoint a board member to serve out Lynch’s term until the 2020 election.

“It’s a huge loss,” Webster said. “Frank was a well respected educator. Working with him was a privilege. We’re all still kind of reeling.”

Besides his wife, Maureen, Lynch is survived by his son, Sean Lynch; daughter, Kate Lynch Jerkens; stepson, Brandon Kelsey; stepdaughter, Erin Kelsey; and five grandkids.

A funeral mass will be held on Monday, March 11, at 11 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul, 35 Liberty St. Donations in his memory can be made to Petaluma Educational Foundation.