November 4, 1927 to September 26th, 2016

A virtuoso artist

Cellist by Dick Cole

Richard “Dick” Stonnell Cole—an award-winning illustrator, nationally-recognized watercolorist, and cofounder the Northern California design firm Cole Angeli—died on Monday, September 26th, in San Rafael, CA. He was 88.

How do you describe a virtuoso artist like Dick Cole? You begin with the man.

He loved life, living in Sonoma, beauty, music (classical and jazz), poetry, fly fishing, wit, tall tales and the finer things from California’s vineyards and farms, said Ann Koeffler, his long-time artist’s representative.

And then there is Dick’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Brooks, the shining star in his glittering universe, his only biological child, the one who called him “My Poppers” and “Spider Legs”—because he walked so fast.

Elizabeth and her "Poppers"

Elizabeth and her “Poppers”

The loss of her father is so great, the void so gaping, Elizabeth has trouble reminiscing about him without dissolving into tears.

Dedicated to his art

“His life was dedicated to art,” said Elizabeth, who lives with her husband and daughter in Kirkland, WA. “It wasn’t work, it was the fabric of his being.”

A fourth generation Californian, Dick was born November 4, 1927, in Santa Cruz, CA. to Dr. Frank Raymond Cole, an entomologist, and Dorothy Gray Stonnell Cole, an executive assistant at UC Berkley. Dick and his two brothers, James Morrison and Louis Fillmore, grew up in a happy, rambunctious household, overseen by kind, deeply ethical, hard-working parents.

The family moved to Redlands, where Dick’s junior high art teacher recognized his extraordinary talent, telling his mother that she was going to keep all of Dick’s drawings because he was bound to be famous one day. After graduating from Redlands High School (Class of 1945), Dick served as an air traffic controller, in the US Air Force, during the Berlin Airlift (1948-49).

Art, the fabric of his being

Art, the fabric of his being

He acquired an Associates of Arts degree at San Bernardino Valley Community College on the GI bill; graduated with honors from UCLA, and earned a BFA in advertising illustration from Art Center College of Design. During this time he boxed, played the saxophone and made the Junior Olympic Swim Team.

Before his hair turned gray in his late 30s, he had light brown hair and hazel/green-blue eyes, just like his daughter’s, and his voice always had a smile in it.

The Mad Men years

dick-and-elizIn 1956, Dick took his long, lean, good-natured self to New York, the mecca of the advertising world. Hired as an art director at Young & Rubicam, the most prestigious ad agency in the country, he acquired a taste for dry martinis and clothes.

These were the Mad Men years, and his first day on the job, his boss took him shopping at Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue, advancing him the money to buy a couple of conservative gray suits for work. Honing his skills as a graphic artist and illustrator, he helped create magazine ads for DuPont Nylon and Dacron fibers.

cole_boatBut Dick had left his heart in San Francisco, and five years later he transferred to the agency’s West Coast office. Wanting to be on his own, Dick and Primo Angeli, a noted graphic artist, cofounded the design firm, Cole & Angeli, with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Their clients included Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Memorex.

Elizabeth remembers, as a child, walking with her Poppers around the Embarcadero, San Francisco’s waterfront, and everyone in the city seeming to know him. At times, he would burst into a little finger-snapping jazzy beat, quickening his pace.

Dick and his late wife, Margot Smith Cole

According to his artist’s rep, Ann Koeffler, “All who were his friends savored his endless supply of stories, jokes, and ability to tell the unvarnished truth with relish. He traveled widely, painting a brilliant record of what he saw.”

Despite three marriages, Dick’s personal life remained spontaneous and upbeat. “He was a hopeless romantic,” his daughter said. “He loved his family dearly, and you always wanted Dick Cole at a party!” She rarely ever saw him angry or upset.

Dick and his late wife, Diane Noyes Cole

His first marriage to Sheila Croker Cole, Elizabeth’s mother, lasted ten years, until 1971. They parted when Elizabeth was two. Dick and his second wife, Margot Smith Cole, were together from 1971 until she passed away from bone cancer in 1991. His third wife Diane Noyes Cole died from terminal cancer in 2012. Dick was about 63 when he and Diane married, and he became utterly devoted to his step-kids, Eric, Sara and Greg Noyes.

“No nuts”

Eric and Greg Noyes

Dick embraced stepsons Eric and Greg Noyes

Dick’s sense of humor was legendary. He was very quick-witted and could play off anyone or any conversation—even when the joke was on him. One of his favorite stories concerned a cake he ordered for Elizabeth’s 11th birthday. Since he and Sheila were divorced, Dick either helped with decorations or sent something special.

“At that time I loved carrot cake,” Elizabeth said, adding wryly, as long as it didn’t contain walnuts. “So, my Dad went into our favorite little bakery in Palo Alto and ordered a giant, sheet carrot cake. When they asked what verbiage was needed on the cake he told them, “Happy Birthday, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth with her Poppers

Elizabeth with her Poppers

Almost out the door, Dick added, “Oh, and no nuts!”  The day of the party arrived, as did the cake, which said: “Happy Birthday Elizabeth. No Nuts.”

“When my Dad picked me up for the weekend a couple of days later, we laughed and laughed and laughed hysterically for about 30 minutes with tears rolling down our cheeks.”

In the early 1970s, Dick sold his share of Cole Angeli to his partner and became a freelance illustrator, doing lots of work for textbook publishers, mostly pen and ink and some watercolors.

He moved to Sonoma in 1991, living first in Schellville, and then on the east side. After American Express hired him to paint a series of ads promoting various resorts, he started doing more watercolors.

A terrific teacher

Top of The World

Dick used to explain to his students how painting is all about the value of light to dark.

cole_15_fsElizabeth recalls watching her father work. “It was awesome,” she said. “He would talk me through the steps and why he did certain things. He was a terrific teacher.”

In the 1980s, Dick taught graphic design and illustration at San Jose State, San Francisco Academy of Art, Foothill College, the Sonoma Community Center, and in numerous workshops.

He also accepted commissions for portraits and always drew pencil sketches before starting to paint. A nationally recognized watercolorist, his extraordinary work resides in private and public collections from coast to coast.

Cole watercolor

Cole watercolor

At one fairly recent showing at the Sonoma Community Art Center, Dick’s representational watercolors drew raves. Mostly landscape and pastoral scenes, his work reflects his illustrator background.

“His creative side crept into other honed skills,” Elizabeth said. “He belonged to a local writing group and loved to write poetry, short stories and was even working on a screenplay! He was very smart, too smart at times, perhaps a bit of a smart ass!” 

At home in Sonoma

cole06_fsHe was also an avid gardener, a true green thumb, and you could find him almost daily sitting in the cozy courtyard of his beautiful Sonoma home, soaking up the sunshine, surrounded by his flowers, fruit trees and his devoted dogs. He always carried wintergreen lifesavers and butterscotch candies in his pockets and loved solving the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

Dick garnered numerous awards from New York, San Francisco, Western and Los Angeles Art Directors Clubs, as well as the Society of Illustrators, plus San Francisco and Los Angeles Society of Illustrators. With time, he added fine art watercolorist to his list of achievements.

Dick teaching

Dick teaching watercolor

He was a cofounding artist of Sonoma Plein Air; past board member of the Sonoma Valley Art Museum, and a Signature Member of American Watercolor Society. He won the Sonoma Plein Air 2009 Artists’ Choice Award; CWA National Charlotte Huntley Award 2005; Best of Show, California Watercolor Association National exhibition 2000, and was featured artist in International Artist Magazine 2006, and on and on.

He served as past president of Francisco Society of Illustrators, National Watercolor Society, and the California Watercolor Association.

Elizabeth and Jason Brooks at a memorial for Elizabeth’s artist father

Dick Cole is survived by his loving daughter Elizabeth Ann Brooks, her husband Jason and granddaughter, Grace Elizabeth of Kirkland, WA; his brother, Jim Cole of Visalia, CA; his three stepchildren, Eric Noyes and wife of Bozeman MT.; Sara Noyes and husband of Los Angeles, and Greg Noyes and wife of Los Angeles, and seven grandchildren. Also Frank and Ginger Lloyd, a cousin, of Walnut Creek, CA.

He was predeceased by his much-loved wives Margot (nee Smith) and Diane (nee Wilkins) and his brother Louis Fillmore Cole.

Dick was a strong supporter of Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, whose mission, for over 14 years, has been to ensure access of Sonoma Valley students to Arts Education.

Donations in his name may be made to: Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, 19201 Sonoma Highway #321, Sonoma CA 95476.

His celebration of life is scheduled for 2017, in Sonoma, CA. Exact location/time and date TBD.


  1. Kathy

    Superb artist and wonderful man! Adored writing about him with so much help and insight from his daughter, Elizabeth!

  2. ann koeffler

    Elizabeth dear, this is truly beautiful and captures exactly what your dad was all about. I am about to cry, again. The last time I talked to him, in a weak and shaky voice, he said “I love you Ann” and I said that I loved him too. We had so many years together- so much interaction with crazy jobs and deadlines, ornery people -it was a true partnership filled with love and respect. Since 1989, a long ,long time. Rest in Peace Dear Dickie. He always addressed himself as Dickie to me. You are one of a kind , and thanks for enriching my life and telling me crazy jokes that seemed to go on and on sometimes ! Your Reptile as you used to call me, and with much love-Ann

  3. Jerry Gibbons

    A memorable man and artist an a really good guy.

  4. Bob Pease

    A fabulous friend, a truly fine Artist, always there to help anyone in need, will be greatly missed…

  5. John Crawford

    A lovely obituary for a lovely man.

  6. Jack Allen

    We missed each other at Young and Rubicam and in most of San Francisco. My bad.

  7. Denise Shields

    The obituary is lovely…..Dick will be greatly missed……

  8. Lise

    I shared a studio with Dick and Tom Durfee for 7 or so years. It was Mary Ellen Campion and I, Dick and Tom and located at 25 Hotaling Place or 712 Montgomery (the back door). Dick was so much more than a studio roomie. Wonderful man. He occasionally did projects for me but he was a true friend, confidant and someone I loved talking with, visiting with and exchanging ideas about art, life, design and relationships.

    I learned so much from him.

    Thank you Dick for helping me to grow. Blessings on your memory, family and friends.

    I am so sorry you’ve left us, but I know we are all better for having known you. It’s with tremendous fondness that I think about your many kindnesses, warm smile, generous spirit and your inspiring legacy of mind-bendingly creative work.

    I I ALWAYS think of you with love in my heart!

    Lise Stampfli Torme
    Stampfli Design/Torme Design

  9. John Hardgrove

    A beautiful life story,well told. Dick lived his life to the fullest, and always with a smile and
    a twinkel in his eye. When I see a fabulous water color sunset these days, I imagine that Dick is busy with his extra large brushes, letting us know that he’s thinking of all of us, as we are of him!

  10. Susan Rothenbush

    My dear Uncle Dick, whom I actually had a child’s crush on, thought he was absolutely dreamy and like a cool movie star. When Uncle Dick would visit us in White Rock, I would plan to pretend I had fallen asleep, so that he would swoop me up in his arms and carry me to my room. I am sure he knew that I was pretending, but never spoiled my little moment. I was always his “Susan Jane”, and I was convinced that I was his favourite niece.
    Uncle Dick, you were such a special and dear uncle, and although my time with you was not often enough, I will always cherish and keep my special memories close to my heart. ??
    All my love,
    your Susan Jane

  11. Bj droubi

    Thank you for this lovely tribute to a wonderful friend. He kept his good humor to the end, and what a sharp mind he had. Dick is sorely missed, and his passing leaves a void in sonoma.

  12. Richard "Dick" Moore

    Lovely man! Always had at least one joke to tell! Super watercolorist!

  13. Warren Lee

    Dick was a wonderful friend and artist since our days at ACS almost 60 years ago. I am always reminded of him when I paint watercolors. His classes were inspiring.

  14. Judy Doty

    My husband and I were in a film group with Dick. Dick would present the most compelling descriptions of the movies. I remember him talking about color when describing the black-and-white movie, The Artist. Dick was a true Renaissance man, a kind and gentle man, and a hilarious man. We all adored him. He is greatly missed and won’t be forgotten.

  15. Sharon Schenone

    I was a friend of Dick and Diane’s and yearly house (and dog) sat for them when they went to the Ranch in Montana. I also had the privilege of knowing Dick back in my advertising days. I visited with Dick in mid-August of last year. This past Friday I went by the house on Virginia surprised to find construction. It sadly occurred to me that something had transpired and I discovered that Dick had passed. I am profoundly saddened at this loss for he was a dear, dear person. I am so privileged to have shared been gifted two of his watercolors. They will serve as a constant reminder of this charming and gifted gentleman.

  16. Nette Gould

    When I attended the California Historical Society show of art in 2011, the watercolor by Dick Cole, “Pismo Beach,” totally captivated me. At the time, I didn’t have the funds for such a purchase but I kept the post card and still look at it fondly. Today I went in search of the artist online, only to discover his recent demise. So sad I didn’t get to meet him and tell him how much I appreciated his work, not to mention possibly buy a painting.

  17. Alfred L Skinner

    Dick painted the harbor at Pornic France for Sarah, a prized heirloom for her family. He pretended to not understand the optics of the green flash at sunset, pulled my leg and sent an interpretation, a kaleidoscope of color.

    Margot’s uncle Al

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

71  +    =  80

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.