David Foege

May 3, 2007

The Seattle PI story about the death of David Foege. Unfortunately, David took his own life. It was a complete surprise to all of his friends. Like all of us, he had his struggles but none of us would have ever guessed that things were so dark for him.

David Foege, 1962-2007: Vashon mourns teacher’s death


VASHON ISLAND — David Foege likely would have been surprised, and probably even slightly uneasy, at the outpouring of love, admiration and crushing sense of loss that have washed over this tight-knit island community following his death last week.

“If you knew David, or maybe even had a brief conversation with him, you felt like you had a special relationship with him,” said Stacy Carkonen, one of Foege’s close friends. “That’s just the way he affected people.”

Foege, 44, who had struggled with depression since he was a child, took his own life earlier this month.


Foege was a popular teacher at McMurray Middle School and the eldest son of the world-renowned public health pioneer, William Foege, who developed the global strategy that led to the eradication of smallpox. The younger Foege spent much of his childhood outside of the U.S., traveling with his family across Africa and India.

During his college days, he developed an interest in Russian history and enrolled at Leningrad State University — even though he spoke no Russian.

“That was typical of him,” said Bill Foege, his father. “He was insatiably curious with a real sense of adventure.”

Besides teaching social studies on Vashon for the past 15 years, Foege was an accomplished guitar player and instructor in outdoor survival skills. He and another teacher at McMurray, Terry Swift, were developing graphic novels aimed at introducing their students to history, culture and philosophy.

“David had this amazing wealth of knowledge and knew how to make it accessible to kids,” said Gates Johnson, a friend and another colleague at McMurray.

On April 20, Foege killed himself. Friends and family said he had been making plans for activities with others later that day and on the weekend so it was clearly not premeditated. Something incomprehensible had overwhelmed Foege, husband to Jennifer and father to Max, 9, and 22-month-old daughter Olyana.

“Depression took him,” said Bill Foege, now senior adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We talked about some dark stuff, but I didn’t realize he was in such pain,” Swift said. “And I was one of his best friends. He was a very private person, in many ways.”

For such a private person, however, Foege had a broad, public impact.

A memorial service held for him earlier this week at Vashon United Methodist Church attracted hundreds of people, so many that perhaps half of the attendees had to stand outside in the drizzle and listen to the ceremony on speakers. The ferries that afternoon were overloaded between Seattle and the island.

“It was incredible,” said Kimm Shride, a ferry system worker who, like many parents here, said Foege had transformed the educational experience for her child. “My daughter just loved Mr. Foege.”

Part of his success as a teacher, said his mother, Paula Foege, likely came from the fact that he had hated school as a boy. He struggled with dyslexia, she said, and also had a bit of the rebel streak in him.

“Yet when he was maybe 11 or 12 years old, he was reading a lot of the same books I was reading, like ‘Papillon’ or ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ” she said. Her son was incredibly curious and open to new experiences or ideas, she said, but he didn’t much like the confines of the standard educational approach.

“David really knew how to listen to troubled kids,” Jennifer Foege said. “He wouldn’t coddle anybody, but he really listened to them. It made a big difference.”

Foege’s younger brothers, Michael and Robert, say their older brother decided at an early age that he would settle in the Seattle area, largely because he loved the outdoors. Robert Foege remembered coming to visit him after he bought a “shack” on Vashon that had no running water — and a rat problem.

“Even his dog was afraid of those rats,” Robert Foege said. “That was quite a place.”

Michael Foege, who works in construction with his brother in Atlanta, looks an awful lot like his older brother. When he came to visit David, he was often mistaken for the well-known teacher and would sometimes play along.

“I once left a bar tab for him to pay,” Michael Foege said, chuckling. He recalled when they were both boys living in India. While their father played a critical role in the public health fight against smallpox, they were out looking for pranks to pull on the crazy streets of New Delhi.

“We’d put cherry bombs in the cow pies and then run like mad,” Michael Foege said.

Daryl Redeker, a Vashon musician who played with Foege and also sang at his service, said his friend was widely appreciated on the island for his kindness, humor and empathy.

Redeker, who also suffers from depression, said Foege once probably saved his life by taking him to the hospital for treatment during a deep, dark period.

“I wonder if he was able to listen to other people’s problems more than he could listen to his own,” he said. “You could talk to David about anything. He made you feel safe, and he had this killer laugh, man. I’ve never met anybody like him … and I’ll never be the same around anybody else.”

Students at McMurray are planning to plant a tree in memory of Foege.

The Foege family is establishing an educational fund for Vashon students and donations, for now, can be sent to the David Foege Fund at Vashon United Methodist Church, Box 330, Vashon, WA 98070.

P-I reporter Tom Paulson can be reached at 206-448-8318 or tompaulson@seattlepi.com.



  1. Mr Foege was my favorite teacher.We also shared something, an interest in Russian history and language. I felt like him and I shared something special,something that him and no other student had.
    He also trained me well in the art of his bad, yet strangly funny ( or should I say punny) jokes. He was just teaching me the rest of the Russian language before he left.He was a good teacher and a great friend.He was more of a third father figure (next to God and my real dad).Although I will miss him, he will always live on in my heart.

    – Daniel Belfrage

  2. Daniel,

    He was one of the best guys around. Every couple of days I run across something and I think, “Man, I gotta tell Dave about this.” Then I remember he’s no longer with us. It’s a complete bummer.


  3. Dave was my friend and neighbor. His passing has taken a big toll on me, and many, as evidenced by the huge response.

    Have posted a web site memorial for Dave Foege (davefoege.com). Have gathered (stolen) as much information about him that I can find on the net.

    Please feel free to add anything.

    Good Lord I miss that Dave Foege – He was one of the best people.

    Lyman Burk

  4. The Foege family moved into the house next to mine in Atlanta, Ga when I was ten or eleven. David soon joined in with Chris Bartholomew and I, and the three of us were basically inseparable until my family moved out of the neighborhood the day after my 15th Christmas. I lost track of David after that, but many years later ran into his little brother, Michael, who had moved to Athens, Ga where I was living. We were both musicians in local bands, so we saw each other alot. He told me about David’s interest in Russian studies and his relocation to Seattle.
    He once beat the crap outa me for throwing his bike in the mud. Maybe if he had done that more often he would not have taken his life. He was my best friend at an age where that really means something. I hope he has found peace.

  5. David was a good friend, like an older brother to me for ten years. He and my sister first moved to Vashon Island together and later after I finished high school, I moved out there and stayed in the moon lodge. When I was twelve, and David and my sister were twenty-one or so, he got me listening to different kinds of music other than Alabama. The first thing he gave me was a recorded tape of the REPO MAN soundtrack. Later, before I moved out there, when he found out I’d been listening to Kate Bush records, he said that was his one stipulation: No Kate Bush. I’ve missed him so daggum much over the years.

  6. I had Mr. Foege as a teacher, and he was my favorite. when he died I was shoked but it didn’t hit me as hard as it hit my other classmates. but now, everyday the pain gets worse. and I know this doesn’t sound good, but I know exactly how he felt when he died. I have always been depressed, even if nothing was wrong. but this year both my dad and Mr. Foege have died. and sometimes I feel like killing myself, but the thing that stops me is I think about the people around me and think that maybe my death would effect someone else like Mr. Foege’s death effected me. and it would be stupid to take my own life. I believe that Mr. Foege didn’t take the time to say that to himself. I think he had an impulse that just took over. But it isn’t his fault. deppression is to blame.

  7. I am posting this 6 months later, i was doing my Humanities homework and i just thought of how mr. foege influenced my life, and the lives of many many of my friends. I know that he is still watching over all of us… showing us that forgivness is the first thing to do, in any situation. i have figured out that we can’t properly forgive others unless we forgive ourselves first… I loved mr. foege, he was the only teacher i could pay attention to for 2 hours at a time… Thank you for that!

  8. I read this almost a year ago and was too numb to respond. I appreciate the comments and good memories frome everyone, especially those I had shared relationships with like Lyman and Brian and Tom and others of you whom you probably don’t realize I recognize. It’s been almost a year but I can tell you at this point that time does not heal my wounds. I miss my brother on a daily basis. The crippling crying has gotten less intense but it’s still there, therapy, friends, music, writing, masters program in education and all has helped but not eliminated the void that is/was Dave/David. Tom, I guess you set this up and I can only thank you for giving me a forum that I can write these few thoughts. And you have no idea how helpful you had been to my Dad, and family, in helping us find our words at a time when we were all speechless and incoherent.

    I still often feel that way. This week will be especially hard for my family and everyone who cared for Dave. i invite any correspondence directly to me at m.foege@gmail.com

    Thank you all for keeping his memory alive in some shape or form. With a very wet face and keyboard, michael

  9. Sorry for giving credit to the wrong person for this space Daniel.

    I appreciate your homage to my bro. I know that he was more than a big brother to just me and our youngest bro.

    Thank you for setting up this place to remember Dave.
    His bro mike

  10. David’s classroom was attached to the library at McMurray, so is my office (I’m the school psychologist here). I learned quickly during my first year here that David could smell coffee brewing at the very first perc of hot water. Once I had coffee ready – I could time David’s arrival through my open door, empty cup in hand. I hardly needed to look up -’cause I knew he was there – with a new story (or even an old one!)or a blast of outrage w/some school policy/newspaper article or current political upheaval/ or (and this is what made David so special to me) he’d come in, pour a cup and ask, “So, how’s it going?” You know what – he really ASKED because he wanted to KNOW. We had so many great talks in this little stuffy office. David noticed people and in turn, helped us notice our selves a little better. I miss him – just can’t believe it’s been a year & having coffee here just hasn’t been the same. We all miss you David – and I for one am so grateful that I was able to know you & your family.
    All the best to all who miss David –
    Kristine Nelson

  11. Dave Foege was my dad. He was the best dad. He had such a personality. Yes, he can make you laugh! I LOVED HIM SO MUCH!!! And I will always miss him.

  12. Dave Foege was my dad. He had such a personality. Yes, he could make you laugh.


    And I will always miss him.


  13. aahh…David — just spent the evening with your parents, aunt and uncle and of course Max celebrating Max’s tenth birthday. He grows, this boy,in depth and breadth…he is silly and wise and strong and sad all wrapped in that body of energy and soul. You are missed. The knowledge that we are all circling around Max because of your absence makes such events strange and bitter/sweet… we do our best to find an honorable and decent way forward…missing you– every one in their own way…

  14. I found out about David several months ago from my sister. I wrote a letter to Paula and Bill, but for some reason, it still sits here. Now, here it is a year after David has died and I am so sad-for all of David’s family. You are such a close family and when I was a part of David’s life, you made me feel like a member of your family. I hope that you are finding peace and comfort from one another. Mary Walker

  15. My husband and I had a band with Dave called American Standard. We spent hours and hours together playing music, talking and laughing, and of course telling stories. I still think of him everyday and I still ask why. I regret that we didn’t see him as much as we used to before our daughters were born. We always thought that as Audrey and Olya grew a little older, we’d spend more time together as families and get back to making music together. It dawned on me again today that I won’t run into him at the grocery store. Why do I still keep an eye out? Why do I still make a mental note to ask Dave about something? Why is he still in every song? I loved David and I miss him, especially when it snows in the spring like it did when we were rehearsing some Sunday afternoon years ago and it was the best of days.

    Joe, remember August 2003? I was driving down Slickfield Road seriously in the middle of nowhere and the heat was so thick that it was rising off the asphalt. Out of the waves of heat ahead appears this red convertible. Not believing my eyes I barely give room I almost ran the car off into the scrub brush. Good thing I didn’t because it was you and David, our groomsmen, completely lost but having the best of time anyway.

  16. I loved Mr. Foege he was the best and he will always be in our hearts even if he’s not actually here. But he gave me something that could help me with History, he gave me the joy of doing what i had to do in this amount of time. He was really cool and you never say that of teacher usually. But he struck everyone with his delight to be around. So i think even if he’s not here for years to come he’s is still in are prayers and hearts. I loved him so much that i can’t even put it into words. Even people in the school and all over the island who didn’t know him still mourned in his classroom and everyone left letters and pictures that will last forever and dwell into his heart in heaven and showing how many people love him and care about him. Depression hurts you and people around you but in his case he did not show it, which is good for the people around him but not good for him to keep that bottled up inside him.

    I will cherish the memory of him for years to come and i know that in the world of people who loved him no one will ever let him get erased for as long as the world may live. Mr. Foege taught me so many things like how to indent like i did at the beginning, of my comment. He also taught me how to make a decent outline which happened to be 3 pages long and my hand was cramping after that, but it gave me satisfaction that i did a good job. When i think of Mr. Foege i think of all the positive times instead of the hard times and the sad times. That puts a great picture in my head.

    I loved his memorial it was great and i still have the blue stone that everyone has and all the 7th graders who loved him dearly, crowed around the TV screen and watched the memorial since the Methodist church was packed full. It was a really special time between everyone being all together.

    Then when everyone came out and left and the family came out as well and Mr. Foege’s brother looked exactly like Mr. Foege all the kids that him just stared because they thought it was him there was definitely a family resemblance. It was he was actually here, it was magical.

    I just want to tell the family of Mr. Foege to never lose hope and know that Vashon Island is always there for them. Especially for Max and Olyana.

    I Love you Mr. Foege don’t you ever forget that.

  17. It’s been a few years… I was just thinking about Mr. Foege… and I was talking to a friend about suicide… The first person that popped into my head was David… and I’m sorry for that. Him dying should not have been the first thing on my mind… but… you know… The mind connects subjects in funny ways. That’s something Foege taught me. With his amazingly entertaining teaching strategies. It’s odd. Every-time I think about school. One thing still rings in my head. “Kaitlyn. You can ask three questions per class period.” … But I can’t remember his voice clearly. I really wish I could. It’d be nice to hear his voice again… you know?

    Sincerely, with tear-streaked cheeks, and a broken heart. Kaitlyn T. Yelinek.

  18. Its been a while. I still miss him. I’ve enlisted into the marine corps and will hopfully be leaving in a few months. Because of his influences on my my love of the russian language i will be trying to be stationed in moscow. R.I.P. to the coolest man to walk the earth. he was much like alexander the great in his own right, the way he changed teaching for the better.

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