Ex-Richland High principal dies at 83

By Jacques Von Lunen, Herald staff writer December 9, 2010 

MISSOULA, Mont. -- Longtime Richland High School Principal John "Gus" Nash died at his Missoula, Mont., home Saturday after a long illness. He was 83.

Nash moved to Richland from Montana in the mid-1960s to become vice principal at Richland High.

He took over as principal in 1968, a time of turmoil around the nation.

"He made sure students learned about civil rights, especially because we were so far from the South," said Johanna Nash, his wife of 23 years.

Students in his school were sent out to interview veterans returning from Vietnam, too. It was one of many ways Nash encouraged teachers to immerse students in the community.

Science teachers started a program called "Science Inquiry," in which students teamed up with Hanford researchers. Soon after, business teachers launched a similar program with local entrepreneurs.

Nash was not opposed to unorthodox teaching methods and encouraged an English teacher to combine exercise with the written word.

The teacher -- an avid runner -- assigned students to go on cross-country jogs and then write journal entries about their runs.

Nash was very accessible, said his wife, who taught special education at Richland High from 1980 to 2004. He spent most lunch hours in the cafeteria and took pride in connecting with individual students.

"He was an exceptional principal," said Mary Guay, a current Richland school board member who also held the position in the late 1960s. "He was warm and friendly, and his door was always open to talk to him."

Nash retired in 1988, when his health began to deteriorate.

He had been an athlete his entire life. Even as his heart gave him trouble, he continued to exercise with his wife by his side -- or at least nearby.

"I walked and he ran," Johanna Nash said with a soft laugh.

In 2002, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was given six weeks to live.

But the couple fought his disease together, driving back and forth from Richland to the International Heart Institute in Missoula. The institute had access to an experimental drug "that gave him eight more years," his wife said.

The couple finally moved to Missoula in 2004.

In the last two years, he also suffered from cancer and a lung disease that no physician was able to categorize.

Had his health not taken such a turn for the worse, he might have started his own humane society.

"He always told me he wished we had land so he could take in stray dogs," his wife said. "I don't think there was a dog he didn't love."

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