Robert John Bissiri

Robert John Bissiri, or Bob to his friends and family, passed away at home in Santa Rosa on May 31, 2019. He reached the age of 94 years, 8 months, just one year shy of his personal goal of surpassing the lifespan of his mother. Bob was born in Los Angeles to Lucile Danks Bissiri, a primary school teacher and his father Amerigo W. Bissiri, a dentist, on September 10, 1924. He was raised in Los Angeles and from a young age expressed an interest in all things mechanical and scientific. He attended University High School in the West Los Angeles neighborhood near UCLA.

 

As with many of the aptly named “Greatest Generation”, Bob answered the call to join in the war effort during WWII. He received his military induction notice in February of  1943 at the tender age of 18 but was allowed to graduate high school prior to reporting to US Navy boot camp in San Diego. Because of his natural mechanical abilities Bob qualified for advanced technical training as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate, 3rd Class, receiving such training in Norman, Oklahoma and Vero Beach, Florida. Bob was very proud of the fact that he was one of the first aircraft mechanics to regularly work on the then-new Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter aircraft. He also worked on all the other single-engine aircraft assigned to the carriers of the Pacific Fleet, including the Vought F4U Corsair, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, and Grumman TBF/General Motors TBM Avenger torpedo bomber. While not assigned to an aircraft carrier, he was none-the-less proud of his service while stationed with a CASU unit state-side during (as he put it) “…the Battle of Los Alamitos, California”.

 

Upon his return to civilian life after his discharge from the Navy, he returned to the West L. A. neighborhood of his youth and enrolled at Santa Monica City College where he met a demure and attractive co-ed named Deanna Van Leeuwen. Bob went on to earn his primary school teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach in 1949 and after a courtship of several years Bob and Deanna wed in December 1952. The young couple then moved to the oil-boom town of Taft, California where Bob taught in a school run by Chevron Oil that served mainly the children of oil-field workers. While Bob found the teaching position in Taft satisfactory, the draw of family called him back to Los Angeles County, where he obtained a teaching position with the Redondo Beach Unified School District in 1953. Bob was very popular with his charges, especially the junior high school kids, since he taught general science subjects during the post-Sputnik era when government agencies were keen in getting school children excited about science, math, and engineering. He was famous for his scientific “demonstrations” where he would show how to make explosive gun-cotton, ignite magnesium flash-powder, burn sodium metal, make choking smoke-bombs, and send methane-gas balloons with timed fuses into the air above the school and then produce a fireball above the children’s heads. However, as he would say years later “…..lawyers and timid superintendents took all the fun out of teaching” when such methods of instruction were viewed as a bit more risky than the district was willing to tolerate. Unfazed by the increasing safety restrictions he continued to teach, obtained a master’s degree in education, and stayed with the district until his retirement in 1986, rising through the ranks to eventually become a vice-principal.

 

But it was never all work and no play, for children and the long summer vacations occupied much of his leisure time. He and Deanna had three children together: a daughter, Robin and then two sons, David and Christopher. His kids, in turn, often were drafted into being one of his shipmates during the many years that he sailed the waters off the coast of Southern California. Many of these outings would include exploring the harbors of Catalina and two-week long excursions circumnavigating all of the Channel Islands except for San Nicholas and San Clemente Islands, which were property of the U.S. Navy and off limits to civilian sailors. Many years later, his adventuresome spirit prompted him to crew a racing yacht from Honolulu, Hawaii to Los Angeles Harbor, 16 "fun-filled" days across the Pacific.

About 15 years after retirement Bob and Deanna decided to relocate to Santa Rosa where his oldest son, David, resided. Bob found Sonoma County quite beautiful and noticed the great weather. In fact, he noticed that it was “perfect flying weather” as he had been taught by his squadron commander from his Navy days. Not to let a good opportunity pass him by he decided, at the young age of 88, to finally fulfill a life-long goal and go to flight school and learn to pilot an airplane. This he did and was able to solo at the age of 92 in the light-sport category of aircraft. He continued to fly until the age of 93, but only stopped because the favorite airplane that he rented, a Technam Sierra, was grounded for extended routine maintenance. However, he satiated his need for speed by driving his vintage ’66 Porsche 912 coupe on the numerous beautiful country roads of Sonoma County. In addition to flying and driving his Porsche, his other interests included membership in several historical societies, was a Son of the American Revolution, loved classical music and poetry, and true to his teaching career enjoyed reading an eclectic variety of books. He nurtured curiosity and wonder in many people, young and old, who came in contact with him throughout his remarkable and long life.
In addition to his wife and children, Bob is survived by his sister Beverly; three grandchildren Ryan, Aurora, and Sebastian; son-in-law Owen Lewis; daughter-in-law Kimiko; and his cousins Paul Bissiri and Roma Bissiri Vosbigian.