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Charles Lynch

1936 - 2011

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Charles Lynch in 1966
(1966 yearbook)

Charles Lynch

Much later

(Obituary from the SF Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times)

Charles Lynch of Berkeley passed away March 11, 2011, after a brief illness. Born and raised in Springfield, Mass, Charles graduated Magna Cum Laude from Brown University in 1958. In that same year, Charles married Catherine, and they moved to Berkeley, CA, where they began their family.

After brief stints first as a graduate student in UC Berkeley's English Department and then with the Social Security Administration, Charles acquired his teaching credential and found his niche as a high school English teacher. Charles spent his entire career at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, where he loved going to work every day for 35 years.

Charles dedicated his retirement to his life passions which included spending time with his partner, Diane Hill Cookston, world travel, being with his family, reading, seeing movies, going to the theatre, and hiking.

Charles is survived by his brother Francis Lynch, his children Timothy, Erin and Kevin, and his longtime partner Diane. Although Charles and Catherine divorced in 1979, they were connected through their children, grandchildren, and mutual interests, and the two remained life long friends.

Charles' greatest prize in life, though, were his grandchildren; Joshua and Alicia, Edward, Michael and Daniel, Athena and Arlo. The family expresses profound appreciation to Diane, who provided him with great wit, company, and style for 30 years, and in the end took care of Charles when he was ill.

Charles was a wonderful father, grandfather, teacher, mentor, friend, patron of the arts, citizen, partner, cook, hiker, traveler; he lived well, and maintained his life credo of "a good day, all day, every day."

A memorial service celebrating Charles' life will be held at The Berkeley City Club, at 1 PM, on Sunday, April 10. All those who knew Charles, or who would just like to come and support members of his family, are welcome to attend. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Charles' name to The Nature Conservancy.


He treated us as adults as he helped us discover the beauty of literature. I spent 6 years thinking that when I grew up I wanted to be a high school English teacher; to wear corduroy blazers with leather elbow patches, quote the classics off-hand, and enjoy life. I managed to stumble through two years as an English teacher in Sarawak (sans corduroy), but when I got a regular teaching job in the USA (8th grade math, not high school English) I discovered another thing - it isn't as easy as it looks. Like any master, he made a very difficult task look easy.

He had a gift for relating the book to real life. One day one of our football players ventured the opinion that a plot turn in Shakespeare "just happened". Mr Lynch said "Last Sunday I was watching a football game. The quarterback reared back and threw the ball WAY up in the air, 40 yards downfield. Son of a gun! The tight end just happened to be under it when it came down, caught it and ran for a touchdown. What a coincidence!"

He wasn't afraid to laugh at himself. He come to school one day in a paisley shirt and a paisly tie. (This was 1966, when paisley was quite the fabric.) He knew is was a mistake, and told us "You may all laugh - ONCE." We did.

Ted Pack

I am so sorry to hear of Charlie's passing. I never knew him as a teacher. In fact, we only met socially, during my years in Berkeley, when I spent many a happy hour at his and Cece's dinner table. They loved to cook together, and surrounded themselves with friends, fellow teachers and like-minded food and wine lovers. I was honored to be among these wonderful people - full of ideas, opinions, high-mindedness. Charlie and Cece also were dinner guests at my home, where we would gather in the dark of winter to share a sizzling pan of garlic and anchovy infused bagna caulde with Italian bread and more Chianti than anyone should ever be blessed with. We would eat and talk the night away - teachers, cooks, artists. We lost touch after our divorces, but dinner at Charlie's remains one of my most treasured memories. He knew how to live.

Mary Borrelli

I sat in Mr. Lynch's Senior English class and felt myself surrounded by really smart people and wasn't sure what I was doing there. But, as it turned out, I belonged there. Pleasing him and wanting to be as good as those around me was really important and his praise, his singling me out ... that meant the world. I haven't thought of him in years and tonight I feel sad. Thank you for the jog into memory lane.

Dorie (Dorothea Stamaris) Hedien

Mr Lynch was my favorite teacher. I was his TA in English for 3 years. He gave me a great appreciation for literature and taught me to "read between the lines", so to speak. "What was the author trying to tell you in the story"? he would say. He had a way of making the book that we were reading come to life. I looked forward everyday going into his class.

Sandy (Freeze) Purdy

Mr. Lynch was the last English teacher I had in high school and the first to begin to open my mind to the world and my own language. I was an angry, confused seventeen year-old without much of a future and he addressed my concerns and questions as if I were an adult. In many ways he became, and is, a model for me. He helped me to higher levels of awareness and inspired me to become a teacher as well. As with many teachers in life, it is difficult to assign relative importance. If we are lucky there is one there when we most need them. Mr. Lynch is one of those rare people for me. Thank you, sir. You made a difference.

Pat McMullin

I was a Junior in Mr. Lynch's English classes during the Winter and Spring of 1964 and 1965. Like many of his students I was enthralled with his lecture style and his persona. I always believed that he had only the one Tweed Sports Coat with the patches on the elbows. I learned from his oldest son that he actually had a closet full of them.

I was not a star student in his class but I did learn a lot from him. On point, he did not teach us what to think, but rather he taught us how to think. He subsequently taught us how to communicate our analytical opinions into cogent written thoughts.

After graduation, in June 1966 from Clayton Valley, I found myself reluctantly attending Mount Diablo Community College. Susie Roades, in the spring of that year, had made me sign an application to attend DVC in the Fall. I argued that, "I was not college material and it would be a waste of time". I said I might join the military or wait to be drafted. Susie then challenged me by asking if I was afraid? I promptly signed the forms, stating that I was not afraid of anything!

Approximately three weeks into the fall semester of at DVC, my English 101 teacher assigned us a composition. I struggled with it but turned it in. I got an "F". Depressed but vindicated in my belief that I was not cut out to be a college student I went home and proceeded to throw out all things related to school - books, pencils, note books.

During this purge of educational paraphernalia I stumbled upon a file labeled "English - Lynch". I had all but forgotten that I had taken literature and composition classes from one of the more demanding teachers at Clayton Valley. Inside the folder I found the handwritten (no typewriter) essays and term papers assigned that year. To my shock, some of my works were "B+" and many earned an "A". Upon reading my papers and Mr. Lynch's comments and corrections in the margins, I agreed that they were well thought out and were therefore good.

I then re-read the composition I had written for my English 101 class at DVC and admitted that I had definitely earned an "F". I told myself that "if I could earn an 'A' from Mr. Lynch I could graduate from College." And I did! I received my AA from DVC and a BA from California State University, Sacramento, in 1971.

After over 36 years in the business world wearing many hats and finding myself blessed with a life beyond my expectations I decided to become a substitute teacher at a local high school district. I happily work at five different locations and am called to work 4 of 5 days each week. I feel that in a small way I am giving back that which was given to me. I am giddy on a daily basis and I am constantly grateful for the teachers and the mentors who have helped me became who I am.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants but none broader than Mr. Charles Lynch, my High School English Teacher.


Rick Holtzer

He was the only teacher at the school who seemed to be a snappy dresser, always had a great command of the classroom, he kept their attention and made a statement one day I will never forget.

He said that if we thought marriages were made in heaven, we were in for a real shock when we discovered that they were made in the city court house. He explained that no matter what we did, it was the marriage license that made the Marriage a Marriage. Not a believer? Then try to dissolve your marriage and see where you end up. In the court house with legal representation. Marriages were made and un-made by the state, the county and the city clerks and lawyers.

At that moment, I was hit with this big splash of water right in the face. I wondered if his statement didn't have something to do with his personal life? I felt sorry for him if that was true. Divorce was just beginning to become a common word to our generation.

Ric Davis

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This page updated: June 20, 2014