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In Memory                                                                                         

Paul Ricks, whose career as a Super at the San Francisco Opera covered over thirty seasons, is dead at the age of 74. Paul apparently died over the weekend of October 8th, peacefully and of natural causes. He is survived by family members in Florida and has been returned there for interment.

Paul began his Super career in 1969, most likely in the production of Aida that year, and continued to super every year until his final appearance, in Tosca in last year’s fall season, making him one of the longest-serving active Supers with the company. He was a favorite of director John Copley and was cast in many of his productions, particularly in Peter Grimes, where he was prominently featured as a tipsy doctor.

Paul was originally from Chicago and worked as a nurse at the Army’s Letterman Hospital in the Presido until its closure. After retirement from the hospital, Paul worked at a number of part-time jobs, including at Macy’s department store, and as a poll worker at elections.

Never at a loss for words, Paul could talk to anyone on any subject, at any time, and usually at great length. Toward this ability he never stopped learning or studying to improve himself; he was a student with A.C.T., took courses in using a computer and was an office volunteer and Super with the San Francisco Ballet. He also took singing lessons from Fred Winthrop of the SFO chorus.

In addition to his 36 years with the San Francisco Opera, and frequent appearances with the Ballet, Paul was an active Super with some of the smaller opera companies in the city, including the old and new Lyric Opera, and served on their Board of Directors. He was also involved with the Russian Opera Company.

A page of photographs from Paul’s collection, including roles in some of opera’s most familiar works, has been posted in his memory. It seems that he had a particular fondness for ecclesiastical roles and for posing in front of blue wardrobe crates.

We will all miss Paul and can only hope that he has found a good listener in St. Peter, if he can only stop talking long enough to pass through the Pearly Gates.

Anyone wishing to contribute an anecdote, reminiscence, or remembrance to this page is welcome to email the editor.

Obituary by Tom Carlisle, Larry Severino and Andrew Korniej

SF Chronicle Obituary


When I first met Paul backstage sometime in the early 1990s, he had already evolved into his last look, a perfect variation of the great English movie comedian Alistair Sims. (Thanks for the picture gallery, by the way, where you can see the evolution.) At first, I thought he was a crank and a bit crazy, and it took me a couple of years running into him in the neighborhood to realize he was quite bright, knew his classical music, and was not really crazy at all. He was also a seriously kind soul and I grew to love him.

At the audition this year for super parts, he was one of the dozen characters who stepped forward to try out for the "Vlad the Impaler" role, charging forward with a yell that was so perfectly hilarious that the crowd did the right thing and burst into applause. I'll miss him backstage terribly, although if there is such a thing as spirits hanging around this earth, Paul will definitely be around the opera house basement for a while.

Michael Strickland

Paul volunteered every week in the San Francisco Ballet School office, where I got to know him over the last 5½ years. He and I talked extensively about movies, literature, journalism, and the differences between our generations (there was a 40-year age gap). He had a bawdy sense of humor and a keen sense of observation. His stories about being backstage at the SF Opera over a 30-year period were priceless and an amusing finale to what were usually very long weeks. He kept the SFBS office well supplied with candy of all kinds, much to the chagrin of some of the ballet teachers. We often had lunch together and I looked forward to his observations, from New Yorker articles to the latest bad "reality show" on TV.

When I left the ballet in July, we promised to stay in touch and we did have lunch a couple of times. The Ballet will miss him as much as the Opera, as a great reliable and dedicated volunteer, I am sure, but I will miss him as one of my wisest and most fascinating friends.

Lisa Claybaugh
Assistant to Director (Investments)
San Francisco Ballet School