September 27, 1928 ~ October 7, 2017
Duff Douglas Means died on Saturday, October 7, 2017, after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He was 89, having celebrated his birthday a week earlier. He was the devoted husband of Nancy, married 66 years. They raised 4 children, enjoyed 7 grandchildren and boasted of 5 great grandchildren.
Duff was born in Los Angeles to Merrill and Jean Means. He and his brother Dan enjoyed a close but competitive brotherly bond which revolved around sports. They often helped their father operate the manual scoreboard at the L.A. Coliseum. Until Dan’s death in 2016 and still the best of friends, they talked golf, calling each other “Ace.”
He attended Huntington Park High School and rode the red car to LA State College where he studied math and played baseball. It was at college that he met the lovely Nancy Palmer. The young couple got married on December 16,1950 and settled into married life in Moorpark.
While working as a coach with the Department of Parks and Rec, a coaching job opened up at Hawthorne High School. Could he teach math and coach baseball? You bet. Thus began a 33 year career with the Centinela Valley Union High School District. It was at Hawthorne High School that Duff encountered some students with the last name of Wilson. Brothers Dennis, Brian and cousin Mike Love of Beach Boy fame were students of his and members of his baseball team. He frequently told the story of how he found Brian Wilson playing guitar in the locker room. He told the young musician that he’d need to make a choice between music and baseball. Fortunately for music fans, he made the right choice. Years later at a class reunion, Brian Wilson spoke to Duff with fond memories of the impact he had had on him.
Duff and Nancy’s family was growing. With three children - Duff, Debbie, and Candy - and one on the way, the family moved to a brand new neighborhood in Torrance. Soon after, Mitch appeared on the scene and the family was complete, with the addition of a cat or two.
Duff earned his Masters Degree in School Administration at UCLA and was soon promoted from the classroom and playing field to the office. During his tenure at CVUHSD, he served as assistant principal and principal at Lennox, Lawndale, and Leuzinger High Schools. In addition, he acted as Director of Adult Education. Known for his collection of unique ties - from banana prints to Mickey Mouse to his own Scottish MacDuff tartan - he was also remembered for his sense of humor and diplomatic manner of handling conflict. Always ready with a smile and a joke, he made friends with students and staff alike.
Sports continued to play an important role in Duff’s life. As a side job or, perhaps, just for fun, he began a long career of officiating high school and college football and basketball games. Most Friday nights in the fall and winter, he left work, dressed in the familiar striped shirt and white pants, and drove to one of the South Bay schools to referee a game. The field and the court provided another place for Duff to practice his diplomatic skills.
As the kids grew and became involved in sports and other activities, he and Nancy cheered them on or, in the case of Mitch’s soccer days, stepped up as coach. He believed that participation and fair play were more important than winning and took care that all members of his teams, both high school and AYSO, played their fair share.
The family faithfully attended services at the First United Methodist Church in Redondo Beach. There, too, Duff became an active member in leadership. He taught Sunday School, using sports analogies to get the message through to the kids in his class. He bonded with the youth of the church, asking them about their grades and future plans as well as the score of their last game. Even into his last years, he maintained an interest in the kids and they responded to his stories and teasing, knowing that he cared about them.
Summer vacations always included camping. Using AAA maps and a yellow highlighter, Dad plotted out trips to Morro Bay, Richardson’s Grove or even across the country. He loaded up the station wagon and the family climbed in, often with the cat or dog as well. While on the road, Duff would play “What song am I humming?” with the family. Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry a tune which raised the difficulty rating of the game although three good guesses would include “Take me out to the Ballgame,” “Happy Birthday,” or “Oklahoma.” Upon arrival at the campsite, the well-trained family would set up camp. Doing things correctly was a value Duff held dear. Under his direction, the family erected the canvas tent and, at the end of the trip, carefully swept it down and folded it up precisely. Camping gear fit neatly into a plywood box custom built by the shop teacher at the school where he worked. After the kids became parents themselves and planned their own camping trips, Duff would offer up the camping gear packed in the garage. “Want to borrow the Coleman?” brought on a smile and a shake of the head, becoming a secret byword not unlike The Princess Bride’s “As you wish.”
While friends and relations may remember Duff in a way unique to their circumstances, they would all agree that he enjoyed people. While out and about town, he would invariably run into someone he knew, perhaps from work or not, and would stop to chat. At restaurants, the grocery store, museums, he was ready with a smile and a story or two. The people who meant the most to him were his family. He took his job as provider seriously. He was always ready to help out with advice, the loan of a car or more to ensure that his family was taken care of. Not limiting his assistance to advice, after retirement, he and Grandma Nan offered their child care services to grandchildren Rachel and Kate, making Cream of Wheat in the morning before taking them to school and making quick trips to Taco Bell for burritos or tostadas in the afternoon. Then, as Mitch’s kids, Jonathan and Angelica, became involved in sports, Grandpa Duff and Grandma Nan would attend every soccer, volleyball and basketball game, often travelling some distance to do so.
He especially loved Nancy and indulged her love of gardening, music, literature, and cats. Proud of being able to identify one flower, the California poppy, he would escort her to public gardens all along the California coast. They attended operas and plays, although he might nod off once or twice, and drove up to Oregon several times to attend the Shakespeare Festival. And cats? Duff wasn’t necessarily an animal person, but he welcomed one after another, from Buttons to Marshall Dillon, into the house, knowing that Nancy loved her furry friends.
Retirement allowed Duff and Nancy the opportunity to see the world from the deck of a cruise ship. They traveled to Germany (returning with a piece of the recently torn down Berlin Wall), Russia, the Mississippi, Scotland (giving Duff the chance to don a kilt with the MacDuff family tartan), and Panama. As a last hurrah, they hosted a family cruise to Alaska which was full of fun memories. As good health diminished, Duff and Nancy kept closer to home, going to church and lunch with friends, exploring local gardens and cheering on grandchildren at sporting events. Even then, people would approach him to say, “Are you Duff Means? You were my math teacher/coach/principal. I remember when youâ€¦” Duff would light up with a smile and settle in for a story or two.
Along with his wife Nancy, Duff leaves behind son Duff II (wife Polly); daughters Deborah Van Velzer and Candace Gray (husband Rob); son Mitchell (wife Polly); grandsons Duff Means III (wife Joanne), Robert Means (wife Meg), Michael Means (wife Cereta), Andrew Van Velzer, Matthew Van Velzer; granddaughters Rachel Gray, Kate Gray and Angelica Means; grandson Jonathan Means and five beloved great grandchildren: Tyler, Jaidan, Milo, Mace, and Fia Means.
He was preceded in death by his father and mother (1981), his younger brother Daniel Means (2016) and half-sister, Juanita (2007).
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