Lifelong Hill teacher, coach, athlete dies at 77


Francis (Frank) Paul Cauthorn, a lifelong teacher, coach and athlete who lived in Chestnut Hill for 25 years, died Feb. 9 at the age of 77 from complications of quadruple cardiac bypass surgery at Jefferson Abington Hospital.

Flourtown resident Dorothy Nickelson, who was married to Cauthorn for 25 years before the couple separated, described him as one of her best friends. 

“Frank was a straight shooter who was stubborn and opinionated but kind and compassionate. He was the first to step in to help family, friends and really anyone,” she said. “His zest for life was on steroids,” she said. “You couldn’t keep up with him on the dance floor, or the ski slopes, or in the swimming pool. I think Frank wanted to be known more to people as 'friend' than the smart, highly educated and capable man he actually was.” 

Neither Nickelson nor Cauthorn ever remarried, and the pair remained close throughout his life. Nickelson said Cauthorn’s interest in the world around him was one if his “many gifts” to her. 

“He gave me a more expanded view of the world than I had growing up,” she said. “According to him, it wasn’t enough to read and discuss the civil rights protests or the Vietnam War. You should participate in the protests, sign petitions, or write about them.”

Cauthorn’s sister Marianne, who described herself as a ‘homebody,” agreed. 

“Frank was my tentacle out into the world,” she said. “When Frank went to Japan, for example, and I was texting him to say hi in Pennsylvania, he texted me back from a whirlwind tour of Japan, not knowing I was learning Japanese here at home at the time. Or when he texted me from Australia. He wanted to join him and have fun. I couldn’t, so he sent me a didgeridoo.”

Cauthorn was born in 1946, the son of Francis Paul Cauthorn, Sr., a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune and publisher of City Journal, and Geneva Peterson, an artist and member of the Peterson family that has published ornithology field guides for many years. Frank’s father was also a musician and had taken music lessons from Edgar Stanistreet, who had been a prisoner of the Nazis in World War II. (Stanistreet played the mandolin solo for “Laura’s Theme” on the album for the movie, “Dr. Zhivago.”)

Cauthorn graduated from Central High School, where he excelled in math and science, and was first introduced to nuclear physics. From there he attended the Pennsylvania State University, graduating with degrees in physics and general science, and later earned a Master’s of Education in Mathematics at Temple University. 

While he was still in college, he worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior and for General Electric, helping to develop projects for NASA space launches, according to Nickelson. 

Starting in 1971, Cauthorn taught for 35 years in Philadelphia public schools, including Stoddart Fleisher Junior High, Martin Luther King High School and Northeast High School, where he taught math and computer science and was a sponsor of the Space Research Center.

Cauthorn and Nickelson had one son, Francis Scott. During his son’s early years, Frank coached soccer, traveling soccer and baseball with the Chestnut Hill Father’s Club. The family enjoyed other Water Tower activities in the spring, July 4 parades in the summer, Chestnut Hill Hospital’s Community Fairs in the fall, caroling at the Crèche followed by cookies at the Chestnut Hill Library and Stag and Doe Nights in the winter.

Cauthorn flew single-engine planes out of Wings Field in Blue Bell and enjoyed sky diving. He also held sailing and scuba diving accreditations. As a member of the Bachelors' Club on Boat House Row, he got up early to row on the Schuylkill River or run on Forbidden Drive from Northwest Avenue to Valley Green. 

Cauthorn attended services at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting for 25 years. He was indebted to the Meeting for the many services they provided when his son was diagnosed with brain cancer as a teenager. He moved to Bryn Athyn in 1998, where he entered the Master of Arts in Religious Studies program at Bryn Athyn College and became a member of the Lord’s New Church.

According to Jeremy Simons, pastor at Bryn Athyn Cathedral, where a memorial service was held for Cauthorn on March 4, “I spent the morning with him on the day of his surgery Feb. 8 ... We discussed the surgery and my own experience with the same surgery two years ago. He did not seem anxious.”

Frank is survived by his son, Francis Scott Cauthorn and his former wife, Dorothy Nickelson; brothers Neil Cauthorn and Timothy Cauthorn and sister Maryanne Cauthorn Asman; step-brothers and sisters, Christopher Sykes, Rosemary Baker and Elizabeth Pitzen. Step-brother James Williams, Jr. died earlier.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Lord's New Church, P.O. Box 331, Bryn Athyn PA 19009. Len Lear can be reached at