Karl Fisher, art teacher at Cambridge School of Weston

Karl Fisher taught at the Cambridge School.
Karl Fisher taught at the Cambridge School.

Karl Ross Fisher routinely belted a tune, tossed off a goofy phrase, quoted a line from a movie, or invoked the comedic techniques of the late Phil Hartman while teaching at the Cambridge School of Weston.

His voice often echoed down the hall, which colleagues said was part of his quirkiness and part of his charm.

A compassionate art teacher who challenged, motivated, and encouraged students, Mr. Fisher was beloved at the school.


“Along with all of the humor, he always folded in some vital artistic approach, some little truth that would open up so much of the world,” said Todd Bartel of Watertown, a visual arts teacher and director of the school’s Thompson Gallery. “He had a way of conveying his visual passion with great joy and steadfastness. Not only did his students love him, but our own teachers often sat in on his classes, and that says a lot.”

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A service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Cambridge School for Mr. Fisher, who died in Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Feb. 20, his 53d birthday, after suffering a stroke. He lived in Jamaica Plain.

“Karl had a natural feel for both challenging and supporting students,” said another colleague, Tom Evans Jr. of Holliston. “He had a goofy side that made his classroom a safe place to learn, and students respected him because he was a warm, unpretentious person who was committed and tireless in his efforts.”

SeungHye Kim of Weston, a Cambridge School senior, said she thought Mr. Fisher was a little different at first because “he was always running somewhere and was singing and whistling all the time.”

But she realized, while taking his design and construction class, that he was an excellent teacher with a unique personality. “He was different than other teachers I had in Korea because he tried to understand students,” she said. “He had something special that made students want to engage in class, and he was so good at motivating students.”


Mr. Fisher was born in Rome, N.Y., the son of John M. Fisher and the former Helen Kay Ross.

He graduated from Rome Free Academy in 1978 and from Syracuse University with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1984. He received a master of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., in 1991.

Before joining the faculty of Cambridge School 15 years ago, he taught visual arts in the Rome City School District. He then taught at Mohawk Valley Community College in Rome and Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, N.Y., and worked briefly in publishing and graphic design in Seattle. In 2008 he was a master teacher in visual arts at the New York State Summer School of the Arts.

His mother said Mr. Fisher first spoke of becoming a teacher while studying at Cranbrook.

“He’d spent his whole life at the kitchen table . . . listening to his parents, both teachers, discussing educational topics, including student needs and successes and administration failures and successes,” she said.


Mr. Fisher could have become a graphic designer, a cartoonist, or a comedian or worked in technology, but “he was passionate about teaching and helping his students find themselves personally and artistically,” his mother said.

“His students came to know he was there to help them realize their potential, worth, and greatness,” she said.

Many of Mr. Fisher’s students won awards in regional and national scholastic art contests.

Evans said he first saw Mr. Fisher’s artwork in 1996.

“Karl rented a room from my brother, and I visited and saw some unusual wooden sculptures in the yard,” he said. “Inside, my brother showed me his art on the walls. Karl’s work was an unusual blend of digital art and traditional fine arts. I was impressed by his adventurous approach, and when I met him in person a few days later, I was impressed by his cheerfulness and openness.”

The next year, Evans thought of Mr. Fisher when the Cambridge School had an opening for an art teacher. During Mr. Fisher’s first year there, he and Evans collaborated to plan the Youth Understanding Media lab.

Largely under Mr. Fisher’s direction, the lab grew from one donated computer to more than 24 computers, assorted other equipment, and almost 30 class offerings.

“Karl’s energy around this curriculum was evident,” Bartel said. When anyone needed help in the lab, he said, “they’d yell for Karl and within minutes he would run to see what was the matter and solve the problem just as fast.”

Mr. Fisher also enjoyed running, cycling, skiing, swimming, and playing tennis, said his partner, Carey McKinley of Jamaica Plain. They met at the Cambridge School and had dated since 2011.

“We planned to get married,” McKinley said. “We didn’t feel any need to rush, but a couple of weeks before the stroke we’d finally decided on rings and were going to call them commitment rings or affection rings. We hadn’t ordered them, but we found this great artist in Minneapolis who creates really interesting designs and was affordable.”

McKinley said Mr. Fisher’s stroke was difficult to accept because he seemed in such good physical condition, which was of assistance to medical personnel because he was an organ donor.

Beside his parents and partner, Mr. Fisher leaves a brother, Grant, of Houston.

“I’m not sure what my brother’s legacy will be, but I think he would hope it would be empowering teachers to direct the course of education as students’ advocates,” Grant Fisher said. “He also would want it to be empowering students to be themselves even if, and perhaps especially if, this means nonconformity and instilling a reverence for the equality between students and teachers.”

Fisher said that among his brother’s most endearing qualities were his abilities to poke fun at himself and to offer love generously. At the Cambridge School, Mr. Fisher often would say to all: “For you, the world.”

“After his death, a student made hundreds of T-shirts with the phrase, ‘For you, the world’ on them,” Evans said, “and students and faculty purchased them all in support of the Karl Fisher fund.”

Laurie D. Willis can be reached at