Ambassador Fischer: SF State celebrates the life of diplomat, mentor and friend

Fellow friends and family all gather at the memorial service held for David Joseph Fischer at the seven Hills Community Center. (Kyler Knox/Xpress)

SF State’s International Relations Department held a memorial Saturday afternoon in honor of the University’s first diplomat-in-residence, Ambassador David Joseph Fischer,  77, who passed away November 22 after a long battle with cancer.

The service was held at SF State’s Seven Hills Conference Center where more than 60 people from all over the world attended, including friends, family, former colleagues and students. Piano performances were given by two of Fischer’s grandsons, and family and friends shared  memories.

Born in Connecticut in 1939, Fischer then moved to Minneapolis with his family where he attended Blake School.

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Pamela Popkin receiving memories and condolences from many fellow friends shortly after the memorial service for David Joseph Fischer on January 28, 2017.(Kyler Knox/Xpress)

An excerpt written by Fischer in the fourth grade showed his knowledge about the world from an early age. “I knew there was a world out there bigger than Minneapolis,” he wrote.

Fischer went on to earn a degree in history from Brown University, and later attended Harvard Law School before joining the Foreign Service in 1961.

In an early interview with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Fischer shared that over the course of his 30-year career, he learned seven languages and with his family, lived in six different countries. He became an expert at developing diplomatic negotiation skills and devoted most his career to arms control.

In 1991, Fischer retired from the Foreign Service to take on the role as president of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, based in San Francisco. Today, this council is widely recognized as one of the largest, most influential foreign affairs organizations in the United States.

At the memorial, former Foreign Service colleague Ambassador James Rosenthal spoke very highly of Fischer and his many achievements.

According to Rosenthal, Fischer won numerous awards from the Department of State, including the Foreign Policy Association’s Medal of Highest Achievement. In 1994, he received the German Service Cross, Germany’s highest civilian honor, for his contributions to U.S.-German relations.

“He had a brilliant diplomatic career and we as a country ought to be grateful for it,”  Rosenthal said.

Fischer joined SF State in 1998 after receiving a grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation to serve as the International Relations Department’s diplomat-in-residence. For the past 18 years, he taught courses on terrorism, the role of intelligence in U.S. foreign policy and national security decision-making, and used his decades of field experience in the Foreign Service to mentor others.

Although Fischer never saw himself as an academic teacher, “David took to teaching like a duck to water,” said former SF State President Dr. Robert Corrigan in a written tribute to his friend of 25 years.

Professor Sanjoy Banerjee, a colleague who worked alongside Fischer in the International Relations Department, said he was a major addition to the department and the campus community.

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Jeremy Fischer, son of David Joseph Fischer, reading an open letter to his father who passed away on November 22, 2016 at a memorial service held at campus at the Seven Hills Conference Center on Saturday January. 28, 2017. (Kyler Knox/Xpress)

“The courses he taught were always full,” Professor Banerjee said. “He had tremendous student interest and just student appreciation for the way that he taught and the subjects that he taught.”

Young professor Jonathon Whooley knew Ambassador Fischer as a student, and got to know him better when he returned to teach at SF State in the International Relations Department.

“One of the things that David said to me early on was just be yourself up there, don’t pretend to be anything other than you are. Be earnest, honest and be prepared. And always take questions from students,” Whooley said. “He really did change a lot of the way I think about my role as an instructor.”

Ambassador Fischer is survived by his wife of 55 years, Pamela, his two sons Mark and Keith, his daughter Anne and his three grandsons Jeremy, Ben and Max.