The San Francisco Chronicle
JUNE 5, 2005, SUNDAY, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: Michael Taylor
Brian Fewer, who grew up so fascinated with trees that he
became the "Johnny Appleseed" of San Francisco, planting
trees all over the city for more than 20 years, has died in
his Richmond District home.
Mr. Fewer died Wednesday of complications from pneumonia. He
Born and raised in San Francisco, Mr. Fewer was an
adventurous sort. When he was 19, he and a friend drove a
Ford Model T from San Francisco to New York and back in
1931. The round trip took them three months, covered 9,000
miles over rutted roads, and resulted in at least 11 flat
Mr. Fewer later learned to fly planes and got his private
pilot's license before World War II.
During the rest of the 1930s, Mr. Fewer worked in a
lumberyard, spent a year sailing the world as a swabbie in
the merchant marine and began working as a gardener for the
city of San Francisco in 1940. Here, working with shovels
and hoes, he found his mtier.
"That's when he knew he liked to be in the outdoors and work
with his hands," said his wife, Mimi Fewer of San Francisco.
In 1942, with World War II raging, Mr. Fewer enlisted in the
Navy and was sent to Hawaii, where his facility with
aviation was noticed and he was assigned to maintain fighter
After the war, Mr. Fewer went back to his job as a city
gardener and spent five years going to night school at San
Francisco City College, studying horticulture and eventually
becoming a master arborist.
"He used to say, 'Just think! From a little seed that you
plant, you get this gorgeous tree with a huge trunk. Water
it and it goes up,' " Mimi Fewer said. "He liked to see
things grow. He was an environmentalist, and he believed in
good air and good earth and the good food that came from the
In 1955, Mr. Fewer was given the job of city superintendent
of street trees.
"He was given a minor Rec & Park job that nobody else
wanted, and no funding, and he went nuts," Chronicle
Columnist Scott Ostler wrote in an affectionate story about
Mr. Fewer in 2001. "He turned a job into a mission. He
changed forever the way the city looks and feels."
When Mr. Fewer "got the tree job, there was no money
budgeted for trees," Ostler noted, but it was a minor
obstacle for Mr. Fewer, who "pounded on doors, soliciting
Before Mr. Fewer came along, there were about 35,000 trees
in San Francisco. After Mr. Fewer left his job, there were
Before Mr. Fewer, the trees were "mostly in the ritzy
'hoods, planted by developers," Ostler wrote. "Fewer planted
"Trees give you a lift in spirit," Mr. Fewer explained.
Mr. Fewer held his post from 1955 to 1976. Even after he
retired, he kept on with his arboreal missions, helping to
found Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit organization
that plants and cultivates trees in San Francisco.
Mr. Fewer was also an avid tennis player, playing at the
Mountain Lake Park courts three times a week.
Mr. Fewer's first wife, Ruth, died in 1988. In addition to
his second wife, he is survived by a brother, Edward Fewer
of Paradise (Butte County); two daughters, Patricia Fleming
of Palo Alto and Mary Grabinsky of Coquille, Ore.; four
sons, Brian Fewer Jr., John Fewer, Robert Fewer and Michael
Fewer, all of San Francisco; and 12 grandchildren.
A vigil will take place at 7 p.m. today at St. Thomas the
Apostle Church, 40th Avenue and Balboa Street, San
Francisco. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at the same
church at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
The family suggests donations to St. Jude Children's
Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105; or
the Neighborhood Parks Council, 451 Hayes St., 2nd Floor,
San Francisco 94102.
GRAPHIC: PHOTO, Brian Fewer studied horticulture at San
Francisco City College and became a master arborist.