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Foster Lopes, A Teacher and a Doer (Dec.17, 1929 – Feb.7, 2013)

Foster Lopes, A Teacher and a Doer

Second careers aren’t uncommon today. But longtime Santa Claran Foster Lopes surely set a record for post-retirement careers. After teaching high school and coaching sports for more than a quarter of a century, he was active in so many local activities that it was hard to find a group that he wasn’t involved in.

Lopes died on Feb.7 after a sudden decline resulting from heart and pulmonary problems.

Originally from New Bedford, MA, Lopes came to Santa Clara in 1959, and earned his B.S. and Masters from San Jose State University. He went on to teach civics for many years at Wilcox High School. A popular and engaging teacher, Lopes connected with his students and made a lasting impression.

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“Mr. Lopes was my favorite teacher unquestionably,” said Tina Marsh of Morgan Hill. “He taught with humor and a rare insight, to each individual who was lucky enough to be his student. He made quite an impression on me as a young student at Wilcox.”

Lopes was also a chess player, and to this day Wilcox colleague Steven Smallwood recalls their lunchtime matches.

“Foster’s style of play can best be described as ‘enthusiastic and a bit erratic.’ He frequently saw what he thought were winning moves involving a sacrifice only to discover that he had lost his queen and the game. In fact, losing his queen became something of a regular habit of his, but no amount of coaching on my part would change his strategy.”

When the annual teachers party came around, Smallwood and the Wilcox wood shop teacher decided to present Lopes with a special gift to help his chess strategy: a large wooden queen that had a flashing light on it.

“We presented it to Foster at the luncheon who had a good laugh and was roundly razzed by his fellow chess players,” remembers Smallwood. “A day or so later he came up to me and asked whether by chance I had taken the gift of the flashing queen from the restaurant at the end of the luncheon. I said I hadn’t. Foster was a bit crestfallen and chagrined because true to his chess character he had lost that queen also.”

As passionate as he was about teaching, Lopes also made time for community service. He served on a 1971 Santa Clara Charter Review Committee, and on the West Valley Mission Community College District Board of Trustees. He also volunteered at the Santa Clara Senior Center, Knights of Columbus, Lions Club and Elks Club.

“Foster was a great community leader and a wonderful person. Santa Clara lost one of its pillars. He will be dearly missed,” says former Santa Clara Council Member Jamie McLeod.

After retiring from teaching, Lopes became a full-time advocate for the needs of senior citizens, first as a member of Santa Clara’s Senior Advisory Commission and then as a member of the California Senior Legislature.

Lopes was elected to his first Senior Legislature term in 2006, and in 2007, attended his first CSL legislative meeting in Sacramento.

“I was awed,” he told the Weekly in a 2008 interview. “I introduced my proposals and debated them. It’s one way to give back to my community – there are so many issues that need to be resolved. It’s exciting, it’s time-consuming, it’s challenging. And I love it!”

Lopes quickly made his mark, putting forward legislative proposals that were quickly adopted as top CSL federal priorities, and one that became federal law.

Lopes’ recommendation for changing capital gains home sale benefit for surviving spouses was included in Charles Rangel’s (D-NY) HR-3648 Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, signed into law in 2008.

The law lets a surviving spouse retain the full one-time $500,000 exemption from capital gains tax on the sale of a home for two years. In the past, surviving spouses could only claim half of the exemption.

In his later years, Lopes was also part of the intrepid cast of Showtime, Santa Clara’s annual evening of entertainment to support senior health services. Among his roles was an assayer with a true heart of gold, and Deputy Dan, Sheriff Sam’s right hand man. “Foster was such a great, funny deputy those years he did Showtime,” remembers Showtime co-producer and director Robin Burdick.

As busy as he was, Lopes nonetheless enjoyed a rich family life and stayed close to his extended family over the years. “He loved people and travel,” says his daughter Stephanie Sales. “My dad loved a great party and he loved being with his family.” Last June he took his entire family on a week’s vacation to San Diego – all 28 of us.”

Most of all, Lopes was his own man and lived life on his own terms. So it’s no surprise that one of his favorite songs was the Sinatra favorite, “I Did It My Way.” “Whoever knew my Dad well,” says Sales, “knew he really did do it his way.”

Lopes is survived by his wife, Iva, and three daughters: Deborah Salyards and husband William, Cheryl Coe and husband Terry, and Sales and husband Darrell. Foster also was the proud grandfather to seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Contributions in Lopes’ memory can be made to the Santa Clara Schools Foundation, Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation, California Senior Legislature, and Santa Clara Senior Center’s Health and Wellness Program.

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