‘Ride on, Grandpa John’: A tribute to the man, 81, who died biking in Berkeley

John Carothers died doing what he loved: riding his bicycle on a sunny day, enjoying a beautiful October afternoon in the Bay Area.

John Carothers at the Horton Creek Campground in Bishop, California, over the summer. It was his last camping trip. Courtesy: Andrew Carothers-Liske

Editor’s note: Earlier this week, Berkeleyside published a story on the death of an 81-year-old cyclist who died after having a medical emergency while riding on the pedestrian bridge next to Aquatic Park in West Berkeley. When the story ran, the man’s identity was unknown to us. After the publication of the initial article, his family got in touch to tell us about him.

John Raymond Carothers died doing exactly what he loved: riding his bicycle on a sunny day, enjoying a beautiful afternoon in the Bay Area, where he had lived with his family for more than two decades after retiring from a 37-year career with the San Gabriel Fire Department.

Carothers, 81, had a heart attack and died instantly Monday while riding his bike on the pedestrian bridge next to Aquatic Park. Bystanders and first responders performed CPR but Carothers did not recover. He was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time after his collapse.

“It is the type of death that anyone who has led an active life, rooted in the reverence for the natural world, would wish for,” son-in-law Andrew Carothers-Liske told Berkeleyside this week. “John would certainly appreciate the bystanders, police, firefighters and medical professionals who came to his aid.”


Carothers was a humble man who loved being outside. He was a devotee of hot yoga, and worked part-time at Funky Door Yoga Studio in Berkeley “where he was a steady force in the laundry room for more than a decade,” his son-in-law said. The gig gave him access to unlimited hot yoga classes, which he took several times a week until the COVID-19 pandemic closed the studio last year.

Much earlier in life, Carothers spent four years in the Marines, stationed at Camp Pendleton. He was on the boat ready to ship out for the Bay of Pigs in 1961 but President Kennedy chose not to send those troops in.

John and Lillian Carothers with their granddaughter Chloe at her high school graduation. Courtesy: Carothers-Liske family

Carothers met his wife Lillian Toyoko Carothers when they were in high school. They were both from Southern California and remained there until the 1990s, when John retired and they moved to North Oakland to help their daughter — Jennifer Carothers-Liske — and her husband with their growing family.

“Living together as an extended family, we worked to gradually remodel a turn-of-the-century craftsman home while always making time to enjoy all the outdoor activities that the East Bay, and particularly Tilden Park, has to offer,” his son-in-law said. “Body, mind and spirit were his labors.”

Carothers was an avid cyclist, hiker and backpacker. When the family went camping, often in the High Sierra, it was Carothers who took on the task of setting up their campground.

In his later years, Carothers often took solo backpacking trips to Death Valley and the Saline Hot Springs.

“He was a desert lover,” his son-in-law said. “He loved to wander, reveling in the austere beauty of California’s deserts.”

John Carothers with granddaughters Chloe and Lauren near Inspiration Point in Tilden. Courtesy: Carothers-Liske family

When he lived in Southern California, Carothers volunteered on the Mt. Wilson trail in the San Gabriel Mountains, helping maintain and stabilize the trail with gabion cages full of rocks. He got into running at the time and took part in the Mt. Wilson Trail Race — one of the oldest races in California — where participants run from the base of the mountain in Sierra Madre to the observatory at the top.

“He was into those sorts of grueling outdoor activities,” his son-in-law said.

On the day of his death, Carothers was on his daily bike ride. As part of his routine, he often visited Berkeley Bowl West and rode out along the Bayshore trail.

“He would ride from our place here on the North Oakland/Emeryville/Berkeley border out to Albany Bulb and then back, so that was likely the routine he was following Monday,” his son-in-law said. “It was a life well-lived. If he could have chosen his death, it’s what he would have wanted. Although I’m sure he would have loved to have been around a little longer.”

John Carothers with granddaughter Chloe, who was riding in the annual Grizzly Peak Century bicycle ride circa 2008. Courtesy: Carothers-Liske family

Carothers-Liske said it would be just like his father-in-law, in a circumstance like this, to choose an apt quote from Khalil Gibran to share.

“So here it is,” he said: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Carothers-Liske continued, in his own words: “Life is a brief and precious passage for each of us, so get out and live it. Ride on, Grandpa John.”

Carothers is survived by his wife, Lillian Toyoko Carothers; his daughter Jennifer Carothers-Liske, her husband Andrew and their two daughters, Chloe and Lauren; as well as his son Vance Carothers, who lives in Japan with his wife Makiko and their three children, Brandon, Keina and Julia.

A holiday meal with the family. Courtesy: Carothers-Liske family

This story was updated shortly after publication to include additional photographs and several other details.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.