Tod Friend, who lived and died on Tomales Bay

Louis Jaffe
Tod Friend spent virtually every day at Tomales Bay Oyster Company, which he bought in 2009.  
08/17/2017

Tod Friend, a hard-working oysterman who protested against the Vietnam War and was known for his generosity, charm and modest lifestyle, died last month in a boat accident on Tomales Bay. He was 70 years old.

Tod’s reputation was one of perseverance and dedication, both in caring for his family and friends and in his work with the Marshall Store and Tomales Bay Oyster Company, which he co-owned for many years. He lived in Oakland, but never missed a day in the oyster beds. He was passionate about preserving aquaculture in the area and was engaged in a public process to develop best management practices for himself and fellow growers.

“I have never met anybody in my life who was that determined and skilled,” Mark Medin, a longtime friend, said. “And on top of that, he was the best friend you could ever have. He cared. When somebody was talking, he would listen. If somebody needed some advice or anything like that, he had good advice. There’s a big chunk missing in Point Reyes.”

Charles Friend III was born on April 7, 1947 and grew up in Garden Grove, Calif. He adopted the nickname “Tod,” just like his father and grandfather before him. Heidi Gregory, his stepdaughter, said the nickname “just kind of came about [from] nobody knows where.” His father was a Standard Oil engineer; he and Tod’s mother, Anita, divorced when Tod was young. 

Ms. Gregory said her father was a strong student and excelled in sports, earning a football scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. Tod played both as a linebacker and backup quarterback, and was vice president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. But after hearing draft resistance leader David Harris speak on campus, he dropped out and threw himself into the movement. 

In May 1969, when Tod was 22 years old, he stormed a military induction center in Los Angeles and carried off a stack of military papers. He and fellow protestors torched the documents in a nearby alley. Tod was arrested, convicted of destroying federal documents and began a three-year sentence at La Tuna Federal Prison in Texas, sharing a cell with none other than Mr. Harris.

Tod stood by his political convictions while incarcerated and refused to work in prison, which led him to spend most of his time in solitary confinement. 

Following his release on Christmas Day 1971, Tod joined Mr. Harris at a cooperative farm that supported a soup kitchen in Los Angeles. A couple of years later, Tod’s father purchased a 50-acre vineyard north of Healdsburg and Tod moved north to join him. 

The father-son operation would inter-plant peppers and garlic among the existing grape and plum crops, but intense droughts during the late 1970s battered the business. By 1979, to support the farm, Tod was smuggling marijuana into the Gulf Coast from Colombia. His operation was eventually noticed by the government and he was sentenced in 1986 to 12 years for drug trafficking.

During his sentence at the Safford Federal Correctional Institution in Arizona, Tod familiarized himself with the law and managed to reduce his sentence significantly after proving that the judge had made a mistake. 

Ms. Gregory said Tod first came to West Marin with Janis Labao. He began working for Hog Island Oyster Company in 1989, and remained there for nearly a decade. 

Tod had met Anne Gregory, a bartender, while they both worked at the Marshall Tavern. They began a relationship, and Tod became like a father to her young children, Heidi and Shannon Gregory. 

Mr. Gregory said they spent much of their childhood in Antigua, in the Caribbean, where Tod taught them how to spear a fish and sail. 

One night in the late 1980s at the Marshall Tavern, Tod met Louis Jaffe, a cartographer from Point Reyes Station, and the two became lifelong friends. Mr. Jaffe said Tod was already dreaming of having his own oyster farm.

“He was driven by motivations that were not the usual,” Mr. Jaffe said. “Tod didn’t care about making a lot of money. He cared about working tremendously hard at building something.” 

In 2000, Tod purchased a 62-acre lease at the mouth of Walker Creek. As the Charles Friend Oyster Company, he sold oysters to Hog Island and Tomales Bay Oyster Companies. Tod acquired the Marshall Store in 2006 and ran the business with his two stepchildren. Three years later, with Mr. Jaffe and other investors, he purchased Tomales Bay Oyster Company, the oldest continuously run shellfish farm in the state. 

At the time, Tod told the Light: “This company has been in business for as long as General Motors, and it’s more profitable. So, why would anyone miss the opportunity to come in and be an active partner in such an enterprise?” 

Mr. Gregory called Tod a “hardworking romantic” who looked out for people. He allowed employees to grow their own oysters and helped them out financially if they were in need. 

Erica Martinez, the sister of one employee, was searching for a wedding venue and asked to use one of Tod’s properties outside Point Reyes Station.

“He said we could rent the place, and he ended up not charging us. That was just the kind of person he was,” she said. 

Tod frequently donated oysters for fundraisers, where he would at times shuck oysters through the night. His stepson said he never took a vacation and worked every day, including on holidays. 

Tod traveled to Tomales Bay from his home in Oakland, where he owned two apartment buildings and was landlord to 32 families in the Grand Lake District near Lake Merritt. 

“You just wished he was your landlord,” Mr. Jaffe said. “He took care of these people, artists and immigrants basically. He didn’t feel right unless he was down there every night and then he’d head out at any hour to catch the tide at Tomales Bay.”

Mr. Jaffe said he was stunned to see Tod’s modest apartment, which was in one the buildings he owned. “It was the most uncelebrated unit in the building,” Mr. Jaffe said. “Ground flood with no view, single-room studio apartment that was full of books and newspapers, with just a cot that he slept on. It was almost like a monk’s meditation cell.”

Tod was intensely interested in politics and world affairs. Ms. Gregory said he “listened to NPR like a religious person,” donning headphones while out on the bay so he could tune in while working. She said they tried to persuade him to switch to podcasts and an iPod but that Tod never took to it. 

Tomales Bay Oyster Company was hugely popular, drawing massive crowds of people who came to eat oysters and picnic on the bay. But the large numbers also led to conflicts for Tod; people complained about the long lines of cars dangerously parked along the highway and he recently was forced to remove several picnic tables. He was also fined for unwittingly building on park service land when he developed a small parking area next door. 

“All he wanted to do was farm oysters, and all these regulations were going against him,” Mr. Gregory said. “I think that wore him down.”

Peter Prows, a lawyer who worked for the oyster company, said Tod was working with the county to establish a hatchery to preserve aquaculture in the bay. “He said many times that he thought aquaculture maybe only had 10 years in Tomales Bay. He had already seen rising temperatures, the water becoming more acidic and the environmental conditions were getting harder to grow oysters,” Mr. Prows said.

On July 18, Tod was finishing up work on the bay and returning on a flat-bottomed skiff when he fell into the water. A worker at nearby Hog Island Oyster Company saw him outside the boat, but it took four days before his body was eventually found. Family members and friends joined search and rescue teams, continuing the search long after authorities ended theirs. 

“He was working so hard, and that’s what killed him. Because he was so tired,” Mr. Gregory said. “He was constantly being hounded by the county and people were always giving him a hard time. I think his way to combat that was to work harder and prove he was stronger, but in the end, he wasn’t. It was a bad accident and that’s all we can put it down to, and to continue his legacy.”

 

A celebration of Tod’s life is scheduled for Sept. 12 at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Details will be announced at a later date.