December 6, 1927 – May 29, 2012
A beautiful story has come to an end. Our wonderful mother, grandmother and friend, Frances Case Theiss, passed away after a brief illness on May 29, 2012 at the age of 84. The tale begins when Fran was born in San Mateo on December 6, 1927 to Philip and Grace Graves Case. She attended Miss Harker’s Day School for Girls (now Harker Academy) and went on to obtain a degree in Humanities from Stanford in 1948. While at Stanford, she met the handsome war veteran Roy Theiss, and they were married on September 12, 1948 in Los Altos. Over the next few decades, Fran and Roy raised four daughters: Christine, Kathlyn, Jacqueline and Mary. When her youngest entered elementary school, Fran went back to school herself and in 1969 earned a Master’s degree in library science as well as her teaching credential. From there she went on to an 18-year career teaching elementary school for the San Jose School District. During her tenure there she developed an innovative reading curriculum based on the idea of teaching her students to read in their native language, then transitioning those skills to English. In 1974, she authored and published The Bilingual Foundation Program, a teaching curriculum still in use today in school districts as far away as Puerto Rico.
Fran’s life in public service was far from finished upon her retirement in 1987. She was a special education teacher at the Stanbridge Academy, working one on one with emotionally challenged children for 13 years. Later, she volunteered hundreds of hours recording for the blind. She then volunteered for the adult literacy program ABLE in Santa Clara County, tutoring recent immigrants to allow them to succeed in the workplace. In 1999, in her final and perhaps most rewarding position, Fran became an active volunteer with Vision Literacy, tutoring inmates at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas, five days a week until shortly before her death. She was dedicated to her “boys” at Elmwood and they adored her right back, treating her with love and respect. It can be said of Fran that if she knew something, she could teach it to anybody, regardless of the language or cultural barriers.
In 2005 Fran was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Award for community service for the many days, weeks and years she devoted to improving the lives of others. Vision Literacy honored her for her service with its Bev Popper Spirit Award in 2009. Her legacy lives on in those to whom she patiently taught English, giving them the gift of literacy. The educational materials she produced, including the manuscript of an extensive Spanish-English dictionary she wrote, have been donated to the Vision Literacy program so her important work will live on.
But by far dearest to Fran’s heart was raising her four daughters with an unparalleled zeal for motherhood. There are not enough superlatives to describe what an incredible mom Fran was. She faced the many challenges of parenting with grace and humor, sending us off every day with the words “knowledge is power!” She instilled values by example, not rhetoric. Although she had many advantages in life, she was unpretentious. She often said that when you succeed in life, the right thing to do is reach back and give those behind you a lift up. She walked the walk.
Naturally, Fran was an exceptional grandmother as well. Everyone loved “Franma” and her grandchildren and their friends would eagerly anticipate vacations at her home (Camp Grandma) every summer.
Fran was preceded in death by her parents and her husband Roy after a marriage of 42 years. She is survived by her daughters, Christine Bishop (Richard) of Bend, Oregon; Kathlyn Bartosz (David) of Carson City, Nevada; Jacqueline Griffin (Robert) of Sunnyvale, and Mary Sanbrook (Simon Sahi) of Los Altos. She is also survived by six grandchildren: Laurel Sullivan, Adam Spangler, Austin Bartosz, Nathan Bartosz, Daylin Griffin and Shakira Ortiz, along
with two great-grandchildren.
The incomparable, irreplaceable Frances Theiss, with her
sparkling blue eyes, beautiful smile, keen intellect and feisty sense of humor showed us every day the right way to live. Mom, you were our inspiration. We will continue life with an appreciation for the gifts you gave us, giving back in the way you taught us. Your flame may be extinguished, but your guiding light shines on.
A life devoted to community service is a life well lived. Fran saw the value in everyone, and quietly helped others achieve their potential, one reader at a time. We should all aspire to leave as great a mark upon the world as Fran did. Adios and bon voyage, Mom! We will miss you.
A private memorial service has been held. The family would appreciate donations to Vision Literacy, 540 Valley Way, Building 4, Milpitas, CA 95035, or an adult literacy program of your choice.