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Obituary: David Reisman

Storyteller, teacher, music lover, husband, father, friend

David Reisman loved a good story, especially if the story involved his family. Whether everyday (a comical snafu at work or the daily antics of Gray the lovable Schnoodle), or extraordinary (ice climbing through the Grand Tetons or drinking wine over Victoria Falls in Zambia), he wanted to hear it, because by hearing it, he could see the world through the storyteller’s eyes. He loved nothing more than experiencing his family’s lives through the tales they told.

Mr. Reisman himself was a great storyteller and had few qualms embellishing the truth in service of a more engaging plot (“It’s all fiction anyway,” he would say with a smile). His prolific memory often added to his storytelling prowess.

He could remember people, places and timing of events from decades earlier, like the French lorry driver who picked him up while hitchhiking from Brussels to Paris in 1974. If he was still here, Mr. Reisman would remember the lorry driver’s name and whether he leaned socialist or conservative.

The joy Mr. Reisman took in storytelling, and its ability to bring an idea or experience to life, made him a great teacher. He could transfer his excitement to his students and bring alive facts, dates, historical figures and concepts. In turn, he thrived off his students’ energy, their thirst for knowledge, and seeing them “get it.” 

This was true whether he was instructing on the differences between executive and legislative branches of government as a teacher at Etiwanda High School, or between agave and aloe to hundreds of elementary school students as a docent in the Desert Garden at the Huntington Library. 

Mr. Reisman died March 17 after a long battle with lymphoma. He was 71.

David Martin Reisman was born August 23, 1948 in Buffalo, New York, to Bernard Arthur Reisman and Helen Claire Reisman (née Perlich). He was the second of four children. In 1954, the family moved to Long Beach, California, where they joined an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins already living in the area. 

The siblings and cousins spent a sun-drenched Southern California youth together at the pool, the Jewish community center, the beach, and the baseball diamond. He graduated from Robert A. Millikan High School in 1966, where he was the student body president, National Honors Society president, yearbook co-editor, and starting shortstop on the varsity baseball team. 

He attended Claremont McKenna College for two years before dropping out in 1968, driven by his generation’s characteristic restlessness and rebellion. He found his way to Santa Barbara where, on a foggy day in Isla Vista, he met University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) student Rae Rottman. 

His long hair, wild beard, missing tooth, snakeskin boots, and bomber jacket did not initially endear him to her, but he knew immediately that Ms. Rottman was special. They became friends, and she knew he was in the deejay booth of the student radio station whenever she heard John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” playing. That song would remain part of their soundtrack until the very end.

Many of Mr. Reisman’s more fantastical stories came from the 10-month period in 1973 and 1974, when he and Ms. Rottman hitchhiked through Europe and as far east as Afghanistan. The trip proved they were compatible and could manage all of life’s ups and downs.

Mr. Reisman graduated from UCSB in 1975 with a degree in combined social sciences. He and Ms. Rottman were married in 1977, and moved to Ukiah, California, where he taught at Potter Valley High School.

As newcomers, the newlyweds joined a bridge club to make friends, and found they were the youngest by 40 years. By the time they left Ukiah they could hold their own—barely—against the other members. 

The couple then moved to Claremont, where Mr. Reisman earned his PhD in government from Claremont Graduate University. The couple established deep roots in Claremont, where they lived for more than 40 years, raising two daughters, Sarah and Lizzie. 

Family always came first for Mr. Reisman, especially “his girls.” He coached their t-ball teams and was a constant presence on the sideline of soccer games, swim meets and track events. 

One of his lifelong passions was music. After retiring, he took up flute lessons and discovered (to his joy) Claremont’s robust music scene. He became friends with Patrick Langford, his flute teacher, and John York, a local musician best known for his work with the Byrds. He enjoyed attending Mr. York’s shows and the two would chat afterwards about the show, new music and local events. 

He was uninhibited about the things he enjoyed; if he liked something, he went all in. He loved Merl Reagle crossword puzzles, the English Premier League (he was partial to Manchester United), Dammann Freres tea, 21 Choices Yogurt, Claremont bakeries (Crème and Some Crust), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Wayne Shorter, The Voice, playing flute, volunteering at the Claremont Museum of Art and the Huntington Library, clever word plays, bad puns, well-crafted pieces of writing, reading, traveling, teaching, and most of all, his family.

He was comfortable with himself and strongly self-motivated, seeking out experiences that were true to who he was. 

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Rae Rottman; daughters, Sarah and Lizzie, and their husbands, David Abasta and Adam Byrnes; his siblings, Marc Reisman, Phyllis Kasparian and Deborah Reisman; and a supportive and loving extended family. 

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please make donations in David Reisman’s name to the City of Hope, Lymphoma Program, which provided him with 10 years of treatment and support, at www.cityofhope.org; or the Huntington Library in San Marino at www.huntington.org/donate. 

“David loved stories—they connected him to people and to the world,” his family shared. “They showcased his glass-half-full optimism and sharp wit. Now, he will live on in the stories his family and friends will tell about him—about a man with a zeal for life, a deep curiosity about the world, endless positivity, and a story at the ready. It’s all fiction anyway, he would say, but the love is in the telling.”

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