Dave McEachen 1944-2010
Courtesy Photo

The world lost a beloved educator and community member when Dave McEachen experienced sudden cardiac death on Sunday, November 21, while racing his sailboat.

Dave grew up in Whittier, California, and graduated from UCSB in 1965 with a Master of Arts in education. He began his career at La Cumbre Junior High School, teaching literature, humanities, and mass media/communications. He moved in 1979 to Santa Barbara High School, teaching primarily English literature and AP English until his retirement in 2004.

Dave believed the teaching profession was a calling and a privilege, and he felt it was his duty to offer most rigorous intellectual and emotional development. Mr. McEachen’s classroom was a sanctuary where literary classics came alive and students felt safe to express their maturing understanding of the human experience.

He taught memory training in SBCC’s Adult Ed division, a key element of his course being tricks for remembering people’s names. It was uncanny how Dave could conjure the names of former students even when bumping into them 30 years later. He believed that his connections with students were meaningful and lasting, and this was a concrete demonstration of his appreciation of each individual.

Dave’s respect for his students was also reflected in his unique grading system for essays. Eschewing the summary-judgment letter grade, Dave would either provide “Full Credit,” when he felt the work represented a complete, fully realized effort; or write, “See Note,” on the front, with a sentence or paragraph describing ways the essay could be improved. Students could revise their work to redeem full credit. Dave was convinced that this reevaluation process was critical to students’ intellectual growth, though it almost doubled the effort required of both him and his students.

Another innovation was Dave’s integration of technology into his classroom as a tool, and not as a subject. Back in 1982, he raised the funds to purchase six Commodore 64 computers. These word processors, circumscribing his classroom’s walls, provided his students the then-novel ability to focus on honing their revisions rather than on the mechanics of longhand penmanship. By the time he retired, his classroom computers had been upgraded to professional-quality video-editing workstations, allowing students to edit their video projects, many of these shot using the classroom “loaner” camcorders.

Dave shared his love of live theater with his students, frequently taking busloads of them to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles performances, as well as on his annual three-day pilgrimages to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. For almost 30 years, the Ashland trip introduced his students to college-like independence and camaraderie, and was a highlight of their high school years.

Dave and Ruth Hickling got married in 1964, gave birth to Matthew in 1970 and Michael in 1973, and divorced in 1991. Both sons transferred from their neighborhood Dos Pueblos High School to Santa Barbara High primarily to attend Dave’s classes. Matthew is a software engineer and entrepreneur living on the coast near Half Moon Bay with his wife, Jamie, and their sons, William and James. Michael, an aerospace engineer, lives in Goleta with his wife, Karen, and their children, Julia and Andrew.

In 1992, Dave met Judith Muller at a philanthropy gala, and they were married in 1994. Dave and Judith were dear companions and enjoyed their annual travels to London with UCSB professor emeritus Homer Swander’s Theater in England program, as well as countless other trips abroad.

Upon retirement, Dave had the time to indulge his latent passion for sailing. His newly purchased boat was christened Sea Note—wordplay on his “See Note” grading scheme and his love of music and of boating. Dave quickly became a central member of the Yacht Club, heading up the Monday Luncheon and serving as the Web master. His luncheon speakers were a diverse and thought-provoking selection of academics, politicians, businesspeople, and other community members. Dave was always on the lookout for “fresh blood” to give these talks, which have been a great avenue of community exchange for the club. Dave’s Web master duties included revamping the Web site to include timely photos, activities, and race results. He had just passed along the Web master torch to serve as secretary on the club board.

Dave was an active participant in First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, where Judith serves as associate pastor. He drove the church bus thousands of miles, shuttling members to weekly services and outings of all kinds. He spent hours each week compiling and editing the church’s weekly eNews bulletin. He loved his church community.

Dave was a dear friend to dozens of people, including many who started out as chaperones for an Ashland trip and had such a great time that they continued chaperoning long after their own children had graduated. An example of Dave’s devotion to his friends was his painstakingly composed, multi-page, limerick “odes” that were sung together by everyone at friends’ retirement parties, wedding anniversaries, and milestone birthdays. These mini-epic sung poems would hilariously recount the subject’s triumphs and foibles to great effect. It was a true honor for those dear friends to be subjected to these roasts.

Dave’s mother, Beth, a gifted musician, passed her talent to her children. Dave started playing violin at age four and picked up saxophone, flute, guitar, and banjo as an adult. For the last 10 years, he played banjo with the Dixie Daddies.

In his honor, we who were touched by him must endeavor to sustain Dave’s legacy by incorporating his simple yet profound mantras: “Always connect,” “Err on the side of kindness,” and “Make your happiness.”


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