Federal Way High School coach/teacher Jean Licari dies from cancer | Service planned for Jan. 21

Jean Licari succumbed to cancer after spending her entire 21-year teaching career at Federal Way. - Courtesy image
Jean Licari succumbed to cancer after spending her entire 21-year teaching career at Federal Way.
— image credit: Courtesy image

Federal Way High School lost one of its most beloved teachers and coaches Sunday. Jean Licari succumbed to cancer after spending her entire 21-year teaching career at Federal Way.

Licari taught math and also coached the Eagles cross country and track teams during her tenure, with her athletes winning multiple state championships. The 45-year-old mother of two hailed from Potlatch, Ida.

"I think that when people think about outstanding staff members that have made a difference in kids' lives, Jean would be on that poster at Federal Way High School," said principal Lisa Griebel. "She is what the staff wanted to be like. She impacted a lot of lives. She taught math to 150-plus kids a year for over 20 years."

Health problems first turned up last year when Licari started experiencing a shortness of breath. She went into the doctor for some testing and it was thought she was suffering from a blood clot in her chest. Doctors put Licari on medication that was supposed to dissolve the clot, Griebel said.

It wasn’t until Licari collapsed during a Federal Way High School track practice last spring that doctors discovered that the problem wasn’t a blood clot after all. After collapsing, Licari went in for further tests in Seattle, with doctors finally recommending open-heart surgery to find a definitive answer. That’s when a tumor was found in her chest. The cancer treatment proceeded from there.

“She was just a deeply caring person,” said John Meagher, who worked with Licari for the past 17 years at Federal Way. “There was never an issue too small for her. She always worked for the benefit of others. I know that she made a difference. She was just an inspiration.”

Licari died from a rare form of cancer called LMS, or Leiomyosarcoma. It is a malignant cancer of smooth muscle. LMS can be very unpredictable and can remain dormant for long periods of time. It is a resistant cancer, meaning generally not very responsive to chemotherapy or radiation.

“The kids are just sad,” Griebel said about the student body at Federal Way High School. “It’s not really that shocking because she’s been sick. But there is just sadness.”

Following the open-heart surgery in May, Licari was actually back at work at Federal Way when school opened in September. She even remained on as the Eagles’ cross country head coach during the fall sports season.

But Licari’s health continued to deteriorate. She was forced to take a leave of absence from teaching just a month into the school year in October, according to Griebel.

“She was pretty sick at the beginning of the year,” she said. “She knew that she wasn’t doing well. She needed to take care of herself and spend time with her family.”

Licari is survived by her husband, Pat, and two daughters, Katelin and Madison. Pat Licari is an assistant track and field coach at the University of Washington. During his 15-year tenure at UW, Pat Licari has developed some of the nation’s premier pole vaulters, including one Olympian, three NCAA champions and 10 different All-Americans. He was head cross country and track coach at Highline Community College from 1991-96 before moving over to the Husky program in 1997.

Federal Way High School will host a service at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, according to FWHS teacher and coach Mike Minahan. The service will take place in the school's cafeteria and gym and the public is invited.

As far as teaching awards go, Licari was the recipient of the Carnegie Learning 2006 Distinguished Educator Award. Carnegie Learning is a leading research-based mathematics curricula provider and recognizers one teacher who is using their products to change the way students think about and apply math to their lives.

During her teaching career, Licari taught all levels of math at Federal Way, including algebra and geometry for freshmen through seniors.

Licari was also instrumental in engineering a credit retrieval program at Federal Way High School. The program was engineered, along with help from Heather Wren, to allow students to complete both their core classes as well as independent study to allow students with poor grades to graduate on time.

All students who entered the program had to sign a contract, and there are strict consequences for their actions: A third strike against them and they are out.

The program, which kicked off in 2008, has been instrumental in allowing students who wouldn’t have graduated to get their diplomas.

“This is one of the most rewarding things as a teacher I have ever done,” Licari said in a 2009 story in The Mirror.

“She was a cornerstone in our building for many years and made differences in the lives of her students, athletes, staff and coaches,” said current Federal Way athletic director Miguel Perez.

“Obviously, she was a great teacher,” said Meagher, who received an interview at Federal Way because of Licari. “But from my perspective from the coaching world, she was just consistent, caring and competitive and always did what was right for the kids. She came to embody the girls track and cross country teams at Federal Way.”

“I took some time to read through some posts on her Facebook and there were posts from kid after kid that she touched in a meaningful way. Some said that they would have never graduated without her. That’s the impact she had.”

While attending the Federal Way-Beamer basketball game Friday night, Greibel was talking to a parent of a former student of Licari’s, who gave her the ultimate compliment.

“I just have a heads up that she was not doing well,” Griebel said. “He told me that his daughter is finishing medical school and that she would not have gotten that far if it wasn’t for Jean Licari. She had the unique ability. She loved math and helped kids love math.”


The Federal Way High School Foundation has established a fund to help support the Licari family. Donations can be made through the Foundation's web site, There is a link to designate funds to the Licari family.

Federal Way will also be hosting a full day of events on Friday, Jan. 27 as another way to support and remember Licari. The fundraising event will run from 2 to 8 p.m. at Federal Way High School and include a cross-country fun run from 2 to 4 p.m., a multi-cultural dance exhibition from 4 to 6 p.m. and a short film event between 6 and 8 p.m. There will also be a concession stand and a silent auction during the entire event.

For more information regarding the foundation, donations and/or the events scheduled for Jan. 27, contact Mike Minahan at (253) 945-5429 or or Rosemarie Burke at (253) 945-5404 or


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