Long time teacher, “Far Side” inspiration, honored by students

Aug 29, 2022, 3:08 PM

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At the door of a high school cafeteria, a silver-haired former teacher with a slight smirk and bright blue eyes shared hugs and handshakes with former students.

Four generations of them.

“Tell me- tell me about Tammy,” David Webb said on a recent night in University Place. He was eager to hear what his former students were up to.

“I had you for Biology. I had you for Marine Biology and I got a degree in biology,” she replied.

“Outstanding!” said Webb.

A familiar refrain echoed through the room at Curtis High School.

“He taught me how to be a teacher,” said Laura. “One of the main reasons I went into science teaching was because of Mr. Webb.”

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Kevin agreed. Joe added, “That’s the whole reason I got into coaching was because of him.”

How did a high school biology teacher and tennis coach make such an impression?

Students will tell you that his teaching techniques were solid. He had seemingly endless ways of getting you to remember things.

To this day, many of us who never took another biology class can ramble off the scientific classifications, “Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.”

Webb often paired lessons with a slice of irreverent humor.

I reminded him of a marine biology trip our class took at low tide, which happened to be in the middle of the night.

Exhausted, we stumbled into class the next day and were handed a pop quiz that had been written by Webb, but handed to us by a substitute teacher.

First question on the quiz? “I’m in bed sleeping. You’re in class. Who is smarter, me or you?”

Yes, there was never a question that Webb was smarter, and he always had a clever sense of humor.

I’m not the only one who picked up on that.

Webb’s wife, Arlene, showed me a Far Side cartoon that featured one of its frequent characters: a large-nosed, white jacket-clad scientist.

“That’s his nose!” she told me, noting the resemblance between Webb and the cartoon.

“Oh yes,” Webb agreed. His wife adding, “We should get a royalty for this,” she laughed.

It turns out Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson had Webb for science. Now we know what Larson was doodling at the desk.

“He did some of those (drawings) early on in class,” Webb said, wishing he had kept them.

Webb taught for about 40 years, nearly all of it at Curtis High School.

Although he’s long since retired, former students gathered for a night of appreciation on his recent visit to University Place from California, where he makes his home now.

“For 36 years, I’ve tried to be someone’s Mr. Webb,” said Laura, who’s taught for decades now herself. “You love them, like he loved us, and that’s all you need to know.”

“Just that passion that he had,” said Joe, “He was a second dad to so many people. And I don’t think he knows that.”

But after toasts with Webb’s favorite root beer, the guest of honor stood up. “It’s a beautiful thing to have you here. To hear those things that were so precious to me and still are. I just want to thank you.”

I think he knows.

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Long time teacher, “Far Side” inspiration, honored by students