R. Gene Geisler
September 23, 1928 – February 7, 2021
Roy Gene Geisler, Ph.D. (Gene) died in San Francisco at his home of thirty years, with his beloved dog, Lady Bee, and his niece at his side.
Gene was a fiercely independent, ever-curious Renaissance man who began his life as a Missouri farm boy. He recently reminisced that he had never turned away from an adventure. Of the many great adventures he pursued in his long life, two particularly memorable ones were his travels from Cairo to Cape Town in a Land Rover and another overland trip from Istanbul to Calcutta. Gene was a leader in university education, pioneering the use of computing in the social sciences while a professor of political science at San Francisco State University. From the earliest days of the Information Age, he recognized the tremendous potential information technology had to advance education. He passionately invested his leadership, knowledge, and energy to spur the access and adoption of computing resources throughout the California State University system from the earliest days of the information age. Professor Geisler was awarded the Emeritus title in 1999 and personally endowed a scholarship fund for outstanding work in empirical political science at San Francisco State University in 2015.
Gene’s university teaching drew upon his experiences working for Illinois Senator Paul Douglass, his practical experience in Chicago politics, and academic insights he gleaned from research at the University of Chicago, where he earned his doctorate. Shortly after arriving at San Francisco State University, he managed to persuade students that were doubtful about the existence of San Francisco political corruption by accurately predicting that tax assessments of downtown hotels would be highly correlated with political contributions. Similarly, he joked that San Francisco International Airport had been under constant “renovation” since his arrival in the fifties and suggested that those sitting on the Airport Commission likely lived in exceptionally large and beautiful houses.
One particularly memorable highlight of his teaching was a groundbreaking political science symposium he created that connected students and California state legislators. For nearly twenty years, Gene led this immensely popular and innovative hands-on program, which included an annual student trip to Sacramento to meet directly with legislators.
When Gene was just four years old, the Geisler family was struck by tragedy with the death of Gene’s father. Facing immense financial pressures, the family moved into St. Louis proper where his mother worked several factory jobs. Gene, the youngest, was in effect raised by his sister Virginia Nowotny (Sis). He loved Sis deeply and was forever in awe of how she handled the responsibilities she undertook at such a young age with grace and affection.
With the encouragement of the librarian and his many excellent teachers, Gene managed to read the entire elementary school library. Throughout his life, Gene shared the tremendous gratitude and fondness he felt for those kind and committed educators who so profoundly influenced his life. Gene was gifted with a near-photographic memory. Even as he neared the end of his life, he would occasionally recite poems that he had learned over eighty years ago.
Gene worked full-time as a baker at the Missouri Baking Company while attending McKinley High School (he remained a proud Goldbug to the end) and dreamed of attending college. By the time he graduated high school (in three years - as was customary during World War II due to the need for soldiers) he was just sixteen years old and already a master baker.
Gene fully expected to join the U. S. Army in time for the invasion of Japan. As he often quipped, he avoided World War II because of “that wonderful bomb.” His excellent grades and lifelong thrift enabled him instead to dream of attending George Washington University. Having received no response to his application, and with the school year about to begin, Gene characteristically took the bull by the horns. With a single suitcase in hand, he boarded a train alone for his very first trip out of St. Louis, heading for Washington, D.C. Over the years he would recall being overwhelmed with emotion at seeing the capital for the first time in the morning light. Shortly after his arrival, he presented himself to somewhat amused but impressed admissions personnel, and after some folders were shuffled and lists were checked, he happily was admitted along with countless returning GIs.
After earning his master’s degree at the University of Connecticut, Gene was still eager to serve his country. He joined the Army during the Korean War and served as aide-de-camp for Brigadier General McGaw, Commanding General Western Army Anti-Aircraft Command, at Fort Baker, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. After the war, Gene enrolled at the University of Chicago where he reveled in eight years of scholarship and was awarded his Ph.D. He truly considered Chicago to be his alma mater, in the translation that he preferred: mother of the soul.
Laytonville California, in Mendocino County, was Gene’s second home for nearly sixty years. He hosted his nieces and nephews, and their children many times, along with numerous friends and their families at his Gentle Valley Ranch. He established important friendships in Laytonville, but none more meaningful than with the Bailey family, for whom he maintained the deepest respect and affection. Gene took pride in knowing that his nieces and nephews had established loving and prosperous families of their own. Gene took special pleasure in leading a tour of Europe and its hallowed battlefields with his great niece and nephew. It was a point of pride for Gene that many of his extended family members have served in the armed forces.
Gene was an appreciator and dedicated patron of the arts, especially the opera and ballet. Over the years, he invited many families with children to the Nutcracker. He relished these occasions and the wonder they inspired in his youngest guests.
One of the greatest gifts he received came from a dear friend and former student in the form of an Australian Shepherd, Gigger, the patriarch of a line of loving companions that included Shadow, Bebe and Lady Bee. As the end of the trail neared, Gene’s greatest concern was for the welfare of Lady Bee upon his passing. He was greatly comforted to know she would live in the beautiful Mendocino countryside with Judith Bailey and her family.
Having grown up in segregated St. Louis, Gene was moved to participate in the various civil rights movements over the last fifty years. He was a passionate advocate of the classical liberal arts education and considered access to the accumulated knowledge of humankind to be a birthright for every person. He was indignant in the face of injustice and abuse of authority and was quick to confront it.
Alice Lachmund (Aunt Alice), a distant relative and herself a University of Chicago Ph.D. as well as a major benefactor of Washington University in St. Louis, was one of his greatest influences. Alice was a remarkable and independent woman who, like Gene, loved poetry and whose mother, Fanny Lachmund, was a founder of both Washington University in St. Louis and the League of Women Voters. Gene often remarked that he never once heard Alice raise her voice in anger. He absorbed her commitment to making the world a better place and, like her, reached out to many with acts of kindness and charity. Among the examples of this commitment is his enthusiastic funding of international travel for those that would not otherwise be able to afford it.
He long hoped that his legacy of teaching and charity would benefit and inspire future generations. There is no doubt that it will.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
R. Gene Geisler
February 23, 2021
Dr. Geisler popped into my mind tonight, for no identifiable reason (that means God, of course.) I Googled him and learned that he passed a few weeks ago.
I took a class in California politics from him more than a 1/4 century ago to fulfill an upper division general ed requirement that I didn't care about. But I have to say, it changed my life and my thinking in profound ways. I am extraordinarily grateful for this man and his wit, wisdom, his complicated love of country, and his unmistakable love of his students.
I hope you found your way to eternity and peace, Dr. Geisler. Thanks for everything.
Betsy Hughes Baker
February 22, 2021
Gene was a blessing to my brother and by association, me. I bred both Gigger and Shadow. Nothing pleases me more than to know his joy and love for the breed. In turn Gene sent me one of Shadow and BeeBee's daughters as I had lost my female unexpectedly. He included a blue male to give to a friend whose brother to Shadow was getting on in years. We kept trying to get my male and his female together but sadly it never happened. I am thrilled to hear that he wasn't alone (the pic of Lady Bee by his side) when he departed on his next grand adventure. I am sure that along with all of his loved two legged folks, he was also greeted by his four legged kids.
His memory is a blessing.