The many interests of Portola Valley resident Frances Stephani Pierce included literature, teaching, religions that honored goddesses, and life itself.
"She had a wonderful sense of humor and was always laughing," her daughter Stephani Pierce Shanske wrote in an online obituary for The Almanac's Lasting Memories website. "Bursting with life, to Frannie everything was the best thing she had ever eaten or the most gorgeous thing she had ever seen, and her grandchildren were the most brilliant people she had ever met. She loved her friends, speaking of them with immense affection."
But despite her seemingly upbeat disposition, her mother suffered from a bipolar illness that, in the end, led her to cut her life short, Shanske said.
A woman's body, later identified as Pierce's, was discovered floating in the ocean at about 9:45 a.m. on Nov. 18 by an off-duty harbor patrol employee who was fishing off Miramontes Point in Half Moon Bay. Frances Pierce was 75.
A celebration of Pierce's life is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Valley Presbyterian Church at 945 Portola Road in Portola Valley, with a reception to follow across the street at the Windmill School at 900 Portola Road.
On the evening of Friday, Nov. 9, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said, Pierce's car had been found parked at Martin's Beach, about 4 miles south of Miramontes Point.
She had been reported missing around 9 a.m. that morning and had left a note at home saying she was running an errand, according to the Sheriff's Office. Detectives found no signs of foul play.
"She walked into the sea at Martin’s Beach, a final end to a harrowing and swiftly deepening depression brought on by bi-polar illness that had quite literally consumed her in the last two weeks of her life," her family wrote in the online obituary. "Her family is stunned and heartbroken."
An appreciation of art
Pierce was a native of Richmond, Virginia, grew up in Walnut Creek, California, and graduated from Las Lomas High School. While teaching, she earned two master's degrees: in art nouveau from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and in English from San Francisco State University. "Her work ethic in everything she did was stupendous," her daughter wrote.
She married Bob Pierce in 1965 and after 53 years of marriage, the couple still held hands at the movies, her family wrote.
A K-12 teacher for 45 years with a focus on art, English and history, Pierce was "intensely committed" and "well loved," her family said. "(She) lit up her students with her enthusiasm, whether they were six or 16." Pierce directed a sixth-grade class in a performance of the Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies by Aeschylus.
Pierce's politics were progressive and art appreciation was a passion, whether in museums, movies or books. She revered paintings of the Annunciation. Chaucer, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf were among her favorite authors. She became an expert in religions that honored goddesses, and traveled to places in Europe where archaic goddesses inspired cathedrals.
She loved Paris, where she and husband lived in 1966 and again in 1980 with their children. Her love for her children and grandchildren "inspired great feats of dedication that she would undertake constantly," her family wrote. "She filled her children with confidence, making them feel capable of greatness."
Pierce is survived by her husband Bob Pierce of Portola Valley; sister Ruth Lisha of Palo Alto; daughter and son-in-law Stephani Pierce Shanske and Darien Shanske of Davis; son and daughter-in-law Dr. Brendan Pierce and Dr. Lindsey Pierce of Portola Valley; and four grandchildren.
The family suggests donations in her memory be made to Planned Parenthood or to the National Association for Mental Illness.
Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal is urged to call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in San Mateo County can also call the StarVista Crisis Hotline at 650-579-0350.
Links below provide more resources where one can receive help: