Ralph Cutler, Longtime Teacher and Wrestling Coach, Dies at 94

Teaching career started in 1953 at Marion School and lasted 40 years, mostly at Novato High School.

By Wendy Patterson

Former Novato High School teacher and coach Ralph Cutler passed away at the age of 94 on Sept. 13.

He was born in New York City on Jan. 19, 1918. He graduated from high school at the age of 15 and then earned a B.S. and M.S from City College of New York. He served in the Intelligence Corps as a photographic interpreter in Patton’s Army during World War II.

After teaching in Harlem, N.Y., he and his wife Pearl moved to California.  He began his career in Novato in 1953 as a seventh-grade teacher at Marion School in Novato. In 1955, he became one of the five original teachers at the newly opened Novato High School.

Over a period of 33 years, he taught physical education, French, human biology, U.S. history, civics, English and reading improvement. After retiring in 1987, he continued to teach in the Adult Literacy Program.

He also served as athletic director, P.E. Department chair, and the advisor for the Hornet’s Buzz student newspaper. He was always thrilled to get an occasional note, visit or phone call from a former student.  He loved his profession and taught for more than 40 years. 

He was very committed to the wrestling program he started in 1954 and proud of the boys who wrestled on his teams. He was honored to be known as the “Father of Wrestling north of the Golden Gate Bridge” by the Ralph Cutler trophy given to the Outstanding Wrestler in Marin County, and by his induction into the Marin County Athletic Hall of Fame. He was proud of the accomplishments of his teams — five league titles, six Marin County Tournament titles, three second-place NCS Tournament finishes, the Northern California Invitational Championship, and 40 straight dual-meet victories.

More recently, he was very touched by a wonderful visit from five of his wrestlers from the late 1960s and proudly shared pictures from this reunion to anyone who had time to look. 

He loved to dance and sing, and play the accordion, piano and harmonica.  As an enthusiastic gymnast, he spoke about showing off just a little by doing handstands everywhere — on garbage cans, park benches and fence rails — and about his love for the flying rings. He was proud to have been an athlete and stayed physically active into his 90s, continuing to swim, walk and ride his stationary bike. He was an avid writer and enjoyed the opportunities that using a computer and e-mail provided. 

He was an inspiring man who was devoted to his family. He will be greatly missed by his wife, Pearl, his daughter Eileen and her husband Steve Oliver of Danville, daughter Wendy and husband Steve Patterson of Fairfield, his grandchildren Michelle, Jeremy, Michael, Justin and Melissa, his sister Ann Rotberg, and his sister-in law Mollie Lewitter.  He would want us to know that he enjoyed the journey. 

At his request, no services will be held.

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Ken Donaldson October 03, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I was fortunate to have Coach Cutler in my life in the late 60's at Novato High. Great man, great mentor, great father and family man . He touched many lives a great deal in numerous ways. His passing is a painful reason to reminisce about his positive impact on my life. His selfless efforts as wrestling coach at Novato High helped kids experience wrestling for the wonderful sport it is. Winning was not his objective, but rather helping us do, and be, the best we could be. He wrote the book on motivation and discipline. I was fortunate to visit Coach, with a few other wrestlers from the 1969 wrestling team last year. Still the warm, friendly and energentic with a memory as sharp as a tact. An outing I will never forget. He will be sorely missed and his imprint on my heart, and many others, will last forever. See ya Coach..............
Wendy Patterson October 03, 2012 at 01:22 PM
We are very appreciative of your thoughtful comments. My Dad would have been happy to know that you remembered him and that you are doing well. He loved to write and we have binders of his reflections about his childhood, his years as a teacher and coach, his family, and life in general. Many thanks. Wendy Patterson
Suzanne Sherman October 11, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Ralph was a student of mine in the first memoir writing class I taught at Santa Rosa Junior College. The weekly class met year-round at Congregation Beth Ami, and Ralph was a dedicated, much-appreciated member. He was one of several New York transplants there, and he broke into song along with his classmates at the mention of a remembered tune. He and Pearl hosted a class party at their home and he proudly showed us his writing room and his framed photos. He had a spark and sparkle I will remember with such fondness, and for all I knew of his life through the many stories about it he wrote in the few years in my class, I never knew some of what I read here (dancing!?). But one thing I did know: Ralph Cutler was a special man — heartful, enthusiastic, interested in life and people. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to say a few words in his memory. Suzanne Sherman
Stan Pelmear October 11, 2012 at 05:54 AM
I also was a student of Mr. Cutler at Novato High. I thought about wrestling for him but there were these twins, state champs, in my weight class. I do remember the good times in the physical education classes, dancing, gymnsatics and others. Mr. Cutler was always encouraging to all the students. I have tried to follow his example as I teach my elementary physical education classes. Thank you mr. Cutler for being my teacher. Stan
Jeanie Jacobson January 03, 2013 at 07:51 PM
I had the honor of knowing Mr. Cutler in his last year of tenure (86-87) at Novato High. My colleague, Claudine LeMoal, and I organized an evening program of French Christmas songs and poems "A French Winter's Night" performed by our students, with Mr. Cutler's accordian accompaniment. I believe he was teaching biology that year, but he came to all our practices and the evening performance just to support the French program. He could literally teach ANYTHING, and DID! (including French). He was the original "Renaissance Man"... so ready to support any activity that added to students' love of school. I was so sorry to learn of his passing, but he continues to live on in the positive memories he created among Novato students and teachers --- Jeanie Jacobson


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