Obituary: Francis Earl Sawyer Jr.

Francis Earl Sawyer Jr., our beloved husband, father, friend, and colleague, passed away peacefully at his home on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, after a five-month battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Frank/Sonny/Fes/The Kid was born on May 10, 1943, in Kentfield, Marin County, to Francis Earl Sawyer of San Rafael and Lois Kathleen Sawyer (Fenton) of Mill Valley.

As a small child his family moved to Sierra City, where the wilds of the Sierra Buttes and the North Fork of the Yuba River became the backdrop for his childhood adventures. Frank’s entrepreneurial spirit was apparent at a young age. By 10 he was loading the shelves of the family’s Sierra Country Store, at 12 he made a killing selling hellgrammites to fishermen, and at 14 he started Sonny Sawyer’s Sierra City Supersonic Sanitation Service, hauling trash for local businesses.

Frank graduated from Downieville High School and attended the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma. He took a break from academia to tour Europe in a red Volkswagen bug purchased off the assembly line. He returned to serve in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Graffias as a quartermaster during the Vietnam War.

Frank graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering. Frank met his wife, Donna, in 1969 and they were married in Sacramento in 1973.

In 1978 Frank and Donna moved to Redding where Frank started a partnership with John Dunlap.

The two later joined with John Sharrah to become Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer. Frank became president in 1998, when partnering with Greg Dunbar, Mike Dormer, and Tim MacLean. He served as Project Civil Engineer on many key development projects throughout the North State including Redding City Hall, Crossroads Shopping Center, Foothill High School, McConnell Foundation Headquarters, Knauf Fiberglass, the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay, and numerous residential subdivisions.

Despite the firm’s many accolades, Frank took the most pride in building a company people loved to work for. In 2007, SDS was selected by Civil Engineering News as the top small civil engineering firm to work for in the nation.

Frank was a Past President and long-time member of Anderson Rotary. He was a board member for the Redding Chamber of Commerce and served on many community and government advisory committees. Frank loved Redding and felt lucky to have built his company and raised his family here. He was well known and respected within the local community, and was a mentor to many.

Frank was an avid fly fisherman from a young age and approached the sport with engineer-like intensity and focus, documenting his methods, successes, and failures with detailed notes and drawings. He made it his goal to fish every stream in Northern California and bragged that he knew many of the fish in his favorite spots by name.

Frank was an incredible listener and always put the needs of others before his own. He never took the simple things for granted, and remarked daily how blessed he was to have such great family and friends. Given the chance to do it all again, he said he wouldn’t change a thing.

His creativity and childlike curiosity kept him busy even in retirement. He was never bored. Frank loved tending his garden, shooting the breeze with his fly-fishing buddies on the Fall River, journaling, artwork and photography, and his post-retirement 4-o’clock gin and tonic. He enjoyed a good laugh, a game of cribbage, a spin around the dance floor with his wife, and a tall glass of milk.

He leaves behind a loyal group of friends, reprobates, colleagues, and a family inspired by his surplus of optimism and infectious amusement with the world. His legacy lives on through his amazing wife, Donna, son David and wife Ryan of Fair Oaks, daughter Kate and husband Paul of Oakland, his sister, Patricia Sullivan, and his mother-in-law, Audrey Duane Muzzillo. His final accomplishment was being able to meet his two beautiful granddaughters, Frances and Reese.

A celebration of Frank’s life will be held on Saturday, September 14, from 4–6 p.m. at Anderson River Park’s Moose Grove Picnic Area, 2800 Rupert Rd, Anderson, CA.

Memorial donations can be made to the Frank Sawyer Memorial Fund at North Valley Bank. Donations will fund improvements of Henderson Open Space, the eastern span riverfront just south of Cypress Avenue Bridge. This was his favorite fly-fishing spot.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Judy Smith says:

    Very fine account of a very fine man's life. I didn't know him well but always admired his kind and positive manner.

  2. Avatar Kate says:

    Just wanted to add that Dad was quite the avid flickr user. Looking through his photography and elaborate notes is a fun glimpse into his creativity, talent, curiosity, and silliness:

    His journaling and watercolors:

    His Redding (and local) musings:

    His beloved fish:

    His fly-fishing adventures with the guys

    • First, Kate, we are so sorry for your and your family's loss.

      Second, thank you so much for sharing a few of your father's incredible photos.

      (Readers, if you want a treat, take a few minutes and click on the links Kate provided of her father's photos. They're moving, funny, beautiful, inspirational and thought-provoking. They perfectly express the depth of the man who captured those photos, Frank Sawyer.)

  3. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    This is a wonderful summary so befitting such a fine man. Thank you. If I had a regret about the hours spent at Henderson Open Space since Karen McGrath took me there for the first time in 2005, it would be never speaking with Frank about this mystical and unique place. He had a vision for things and a heart for them which few possess, difficult even to grasp when told. Mention is not made about the courage and heroism of his final days. We should all be so wise and strong. If there were only more Frank Sawyers, things would be immeasurably better. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten!

  4. Avatar Sandy Wileman says:

    Thank you for sharing Frank's story, an amazing life, an amazing man!

    I can't believe you can know someone for such a short time and yet feel so very close to him, as if you have known him forever. He was true to his word, "we are family now". I feel blessed to have known him, truly a wonderful human being….You are all in my thoughts.

  5. Dear Donna and Family,_I am so sorry to hear of Sonny's passing. As a kid, I always felt he was the family "Star". Whenever his name was mentioned, it was with much respect. Please forgive me for not sending you condolences earlier. Dad is 86 now and is having some memory issues, so we didn't get the word until recently, and our family secretery (aka Mom) is in a care facility with Alzheimers, so we couldn't find your address. The perfect storm, you might say. Just know the Sawyer family of Santa Rosa holds you all in our thoughts. Sonny was a good man._With heartfelt codolences,_Michael Sawyer

  6. Avatar Louis Roth says:

    So sorry to hear of “Sonny’s” passing. I knew him years ago up in Sierra City where I worked for his folks, Sam & Lois Sawyer. Really fantastic people who treated me well and taught me much.

  7. Avatar Sven Ostrom says:

    Hello to Sonny’s Family,

    I am one of those Sierra City natives who grew up looking up to Sonny and his partner in crime, Bob Latta. Sonny’s parents were some of the most wonderful people and their store was the center piece for the town. Please know that the entire Ostrom clan had the utmost respect for the Sawyer family. They don’t them any better.

    Sven Ostrom