Former Fullerton Joint Union High School District board of trustees president dies at 91

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Image used with permission from the Fullerton Joint Union High School District

Robert Hathaway, a former FJUHSD trustee who opted not to run for re-election for his FJUHSD school board seat in 2018, wore many hats throughout his life — being a veteran, engineer, lawyer and educator before his death on Sept. 18.

Tyler Pak

Robert Hathaway, who had served for 33 years as a trustee on the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] — seven terms as the president — died of a heart attack on Sept. 18. He was 91. 

Hathaway was an elected member of the school board from 1985 to 2018, when he decided not to seek another term and retired alongside fellow board member Bob Singer. The two men were later replaced by trustees Lauren Klatzker and Chester Jeng. 

Active within the FJUHSD community, which also includes La Habra and Buena Park, he also  served as a board member for the North Orange County Regional Occupational Programs for 26 years, according to the FJUHSD’s website

He participated in organizations such as Shriners Children’s Hospital, the Boys and Girls Club and the Buena Park Chamber of Commerce, but no information was available regarding how many years he was involved with these groups. 

Hathaway’s surviving family members could not be reached for comment.

“We used to affectionately call him a ‘Renaissance Man,’” said trustee Marilyn Buchi, who is the only remaining board member who served alongside Hathaway. “It was his skills that enabled him to be a wonderful member of a team and a leader of a team.”

Buchi and Hathaway were among the trustees who helped guide the FJUHSD through the state’s financial crisis in 2008 and laid the groundwork for the passage of bond measures that allowed for the FJUHSD to modernize several of its old facilities, such as Sunny Hills’ pool, gym and most recently, the Performing Arts Center.

“He was just one of those guys who was very genuine,” said principal Allen Whitten, who first met Hathaway in 2009 when he moved from Seattle to work as an assistant principal at La Habra High School. “You knew you could trust him right when you met him, and he always looked out for everyone within the district: students, teachers and administrators.

“This is one of those guys who really wanted to be a board member for all the right reasons and put his heart and soul into it. … He’s an inspiration for me and a lot of other people.” 

Born in New York state, Hathaway served in the U.S. Navy for seven years during the Korean War, during which he met his first wife, Peggy. Following his military service, he attended New York University, where he studied to be an engineer. 

After a career as an engineer, the New York native earned a law degree from the University of Southern California. He practiced law in Buena Park for a few years before obtaining a master’s degree in education and teaching science and math at Walker Junior High in La Palma and Magnolia High School in Anaheim. 

Like serving one’s country in the military, Buchi said being a board member was another way for Hathaway to give back to his community. 

“It was his belief that he had to give back,”he said. “It was his dedication to community service, and [serving on the board] was another way that he felt he would be of value to the community.”

Following his retirement, Hathaway traveled the world — touring Russia, the United Kingdom and China — and spent time with his family. 

No additional information was released as to the nature of Hathaway’s death.

The former board president is survived by his second wife, Kaaren Gerace-Hathaway, son, Robert Hathaway Jr., daughter Terri Vaccher-Cardoza, 23 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, according to the FJUHSD

His funeral service was held on Sept. 28 at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Though physical attendance was limited to immediate family, a livestream event was on the St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Facebook page for those who wished to pay their respects.

Instead of sending flowers, a donation may be made to the Career Education Foundation for the Robert N. Hathaway Memorial Scholarship.