The world has lost another Renaissance Man with the passing of Eric Grayson "Commodore" Yarborough. Eric was born in Richmond, Virginia, in March of 1943, to Irwin Goodall Yarborough and the artist Leona Roberta Shew. From an early age he expressed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and new life experiences. Eric enjoyed studying history and philosophy. Throughout his life Eric maintained an extensive library of books. He inherited his love of the Classics and writing from his father and his passion for music and the theater from his mother. Eric played the violin and studied under the Napa Valley's renowned violinist Karl Kultti. Over the years he supported the San Francisco Symphony, Napa Valley's Lincoln Theater and a variety of small theater companies.
A descendant of a long line of Chesapeake Bay yachtsmen, sailing was Eric's life-long passion. Through the years Eric and his wife Marilynn owned a series of sailboats. Their last sailboat, the 45 ft. cutter Serendipity, was berthed in a downtown Sausalito Yacht Harbor slip. Eric served as the Commodore of the Farallon's Patrol, a volunteer group of boat owners who delivered personnel and supplies to the PRBO station on the Farallon Islands, located 25 miles off the California coast. He also served as the Port Captain and as a Director of San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. He loved introducing friends to the world of offshore sailing. On his many trips sailing the California coast to Santa Barbara, he would make sure everyone took a turn at the helm. Often accompanied by his daughter, Catherine, Eric and his wife, Marilynn, sailed the waters of the California coast, the Channel Islands, San Francisco Bay, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.
At the age of 15, Eric hitchhiked to Eureka, California, and got a summer job as a deckhand on a 55' salmon trawler, the "Ruby ll." He spent most of the rough trip from Eureka to San Francisco seasick from boat's diesel fumes. (Eric had to pass through the engine room to reach his berth in the bow of the boat). The following summer at the age of 16, Eric borrowed his sister's car and drove to the small company town of Scotia, California, added two years to his age, and was hired by the non-union, Pacific Lumber Company Mill "pulling green-chain." (Single men roomed at the back of the famed Scotia Inn). At the age of 19 he earned his Private Pilot's License. He built up his flight hours ferrying Piper Cherokees from the Piper factory in Vero Beach, Florida, to Piper dealers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Eric graduated from Napa High School, Napa Valley College, and the University of California Berkeley with honors. He played on the NVC tennis team.
After graduation from CAL, Eric worked for several Civil Engineering companies: Morgan Engineering, the Bechtel Corporation and Peter Kiewit and Sons Inc. (PKS). He worked on projects in both California and Nevada. Eric did the design and engineering layout of the Sonoma Sky Park in Sonoma, California. He hired a Sonoma high school student named Phil Danskin to assist with the surveying of the airport. Phil went on to become one of the Sonoma Valley's most respected land surveyors.
For several years Eric was an employee of the US Federal Government. After his training in Virginia, he was assigned to stations around the world, including a stint on the remote Bering Sea Island of St. Paul, Alaska. Little did he know that years later he would live on a similar sized island on the other side of the planet 500 miles east of Christchurch, New Zealand.
In late 1968 Eric met his soulmate and the love of his life, Marilynn Breckenridge, from Lake Tahoe/Reno. It was love at first sight as they shared a passion for tennis, skiing, sailing, hiking, and simply hanging out with a glass of wine, watching the sun sink into the Pacific.
In 1979 Eric purchased his uncle's share in Kaiwhata Ranch Ltd,. a family-owned New Zealand corporation that included in its portfolio a 3,000-acre sheep station on the remote Chatham Islands. He bought every book he could find on animal husbandry and sheep farming from the UC Davis bookstore. Eric threw himself into learning a new life skill. In 1980 Eric and Marilynn sold their Napa Valley home and emigrated to New Zealand where they lived the “Far from the Madding Crowd" lifestyle. Three years later with Marilynn missing her family, friends, and the California sun, the Yarboroughs sold their interest and returned to the Napa Valley.
Marilynn returned to teaching at Redwood Middle School and Eric took up "freelance writing," eventually becoming the American Editor for the "New Zealand Farmer" magazine. He wrote three novels: When Butterflies Die, and Bakka, the story of a young female CIA officer. His third novel, Voyage of the Reverie, was drawn from his love of the sea.
In 1985 when the Napa Valley School District searched for a writer to create a textbook for their newly designed mobile computer lab, Eric applied for the job and was put under contract. When his contract ended, the district hired him to train teachers how to effectively use the mobile lab for their classrooms. During this teacher training period, Eric was hired to use the mobile lab to teach students at various schools in the Napa Valley and at UC Berkeley's School of Education. Designed and built by NVUSD's bus maintenance department, the mobile computer was the first in the state of California and, possibly, the nation.
While teaching computer skills to elementary school students, Eric discovered a love for
teaching and decided on another career change. He returned to U.C. Berkeley and earned teaching credentials for both high school and elementary school education. His first teaching position was as a 5th grade teacher at Donaldson Way Elementary School in American Canyon. He also taught 5th and 6th grades at Irene Snow Elementary and algebra at Silverado Middle School. He often said that, of all his careers, teaching was his most rewarding vocation. He treasured his contact with his students and the wonderful relationships he had with the teaching community.
During this period, gardening and landscape design became a passion for Eric. He and Marilynn built rock walls and planted over 180 trees on their 3.5-acre Browns Valley property. When winter storms swept through his small forest, Eric would go and sit amongst his trees to listen to the wind howling in the branches. He laughingly said that his trees were speaking to him. He considered himself a steward for Mother Nature. Eric added raising llamas and beekeeping to enrich his life. The small herd of 7 llamas were used for pack trips in the High Sierras of Yosemite and the coastal trails of the Point Reyes National Seashore Park.
Eric and Marilynn retired from teaching in 2002 and moved to the small town of Eagle Point, Oregon, to enjoy a quiet life of writing novels and gardening. It was not long before Eric became bored and joined the Medford Rifle and Pistol Club. Falling back on the firearms training he received in Virginia, Eric decided to become an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor. This led to his becoming the Membership and Training Director of the Medford Rifle and Pistol Club. Eric expanded the Club's training program by adding free firearms safety classes for the public and created a "women's only" firearms training program that went from basic firearms safety to advanced defensive pistol shooting.
In 2005 Eric's life was saved when a dear friend, Jaci Konnegen, became his angel by gifting him one of her kidneys. (He suffered kidney failure shortly after moving to Oregon). Eric blamed his kidney failure on not having easy access to Napa Valley wine.
Eric possessed an incredible sense of humor and a gift for quickly finding the best solution for any problem. He embraced life and was always ready for a new challenge. He loved gales at sea and quiet mornings while camping beside a mountain lake. Eric was a magnanimous person and beloved for his many acts of random kindness. He always took time for others, both strangers and friends.
Eric was a member of the follow organizations: AFIO (Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Falls Church, Virginia) The Jim Quesada Chapter of San Francisco's AFIO The Napa Valley Country Club (Eric served on the tennis committee.) The Rogue Valley Country Club The Golden Gate Yacht Club (He served as a Director and as the Port Captain.) The Harbor Yacht Club (Brookings/Harbor Oregon) The Napa Valley Tennis Association (He served as Vice President and Tournament Director) Napa Valley Unified School District's "thinktank," (The Council) Civil Air Patrol and the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) The Napa Rifle and Pistol Club The Medford Rifle and Pistol Club (Eric served as the Membership Director and the Training Director)
Eric is survived by his beloved wife and soulmate of 53 years, Marilynn Breckenridge-Yarborough; his adoptive daughter, Catherine Bonnefoy; her husband Christophe Bonnefoy, their two sons, Charles and Henri; his sister, Diane Gayle Crist; his niece Brenda Crist, his nephew, Shannon Crist, and his beautiful wife Julie, his great-nieces Cameryn and Kathryn of Parker, Colorado, and numerous great-nieces and great nephews who live in Colorado and New Zealand.
Eric will be buried in the family plot at the Tulocay Cemetery in the Napa Valley.