Former food services director and WWII hero was beloved by students

Paul Fairbrook

Paul Fairbrook (1923-2023)

Paul Fairbrook, a larger-than-life food services director at University of the Pacific who had a vital role gathering intelligence in World War II, died peacefully Oct. 2 at the age of 100.

“He was a giant of a man physically, but he also had a big presence,” said Gillian Murphy, an adjunct professor at San Joaquin Delta College and friend of forty years. “He would give you the shirt off his back. He lived an amazing life with clarity right up to his last days.”

Fairbrook led food services at Pacific from 1965–1985. During that time, few were aware of the secretive work he carried out during the war.

He was part of an intelligence unit known as the Ritchie Boys, a group of mostly German-speaking Jewish immigrants who were specially trained as interrogators. Their knowledge of the German language and insights into the Nazi regime made them invaluable.

Their work began to be made public in the 1990s and was later told in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Ritchie Boys” in 2004.

Paul Fairbrook as a young Army soldier

Fairbrook joined the United States Army when he was 18 and served for five years. 

In 2021 at the age of 97, Fairbrook was featured on “60 Minutes” with two other Ritchie boys.

“Look, I'm a German Jew,” Fairbrook told “60 Minutes” reporter Jon Wertheim. “There's nothing that I wanted more than to get some revenge on Hitler who killed my uncles and my aunts and my cousins. We were all on the same wavelength. We were delighted to get a chance to do something for the United States.”

Fairbrook was born in Berlin, Germany in 1923 and fled with his family at the age of 10 to escape Nazi persecution. They spent a short time in Palestine before moving to New York City. He joined the United States Army at the age of 18.

Fairbrook’s greatest contribution during the war was known as the Red Book, which detailed German units, their history, the hierarchy of officers and other secret information.

“He was very proud of his service,” said his wife of 54 years Peig Fairbrook.

After the war, Fairbrook went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s from Michigan State University. He was dean at the Culinary Institute of America and later led food services at Northern Illinois University and University of the Pacific.

Peig Fairbrook said he cherished education and helping students. She also recalled numerous special dinners he arranged on campus. “He ran an Einstein dinner because there was some celebration about Einstein at the time. There was poetry. There was Valentine’s Dinner. There were barbecues. We had a luau on the front lawn,” she said.

When new faculty came to campus, he allowed them and their families to eat free of charge for a week or would deliver food to help them get settled.

He was also beloved by students, who would often make him the subject of their skits in Band Frolic, a student talent show held at the time. “Oh, all the time,” Peig Fairbrook said. “He was the perfect character to do it on.”

Fairbrook received the university’s highest honor, Order of the Pacific, when he retired and was named an honorary alumnus in 2016. After posting the news of his passing on the university’s Facebook page, comments poured in from alumni.

“I'll always remember the dining halls at U.O.P. because the food was amazing! And Paul was ever-present, joyous, bigger-than-life and always dreaming up new ways to make dorm food not just palatable, but delicious and creative,” wrote Nora Lee.

Another former student, Maia Parmakova, commented: “I always felt honored to know Paul. His expertise and passion for providing a high-quality food service to students were known and highly appreciated not only in the USA but also in the Balkans! I am forever thankful to him and his wife Peig for the continuous support as an international student.”

He continued to make a difference right up until his death, always looking for ways to help the Stockton community.

“In his last years, one of his big projects was to raise money from his friends to buy bus passes, which he gave to the Women's Center and to St. Mary's, so that people who needed to come and get services would have a bus pass to be able to get there,” Murphy said.

Fairbrook leaves his wife Peig, daughter Carolyn, son John, son Bob and brother George as well as nine grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and numerous nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his son Colman and daughter Susan.

A memorial service will be held at Temple Israel in Stockton Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. The family requests donations be made to St. Mary’s Dining Room or Temple Israel.