James Irwin Gimlett | Passages

December 1929 – August 1, 2023

Friday Harbor resident James Irwin Gimlett, Jim to his many friends, died on the morning of August 1 in the Silverado Memory Care Facility in Bellevue, Washington. He was 93 years old.

Jim had a cast iron stomach, loved extra spicy foods (on a scale of 1 to 10 he’d always order 11), once ate a whole raw habanero pepper, rarely wore a coat, never got cold, and never missed a day of work on account of being sick. He seemed to be able to withstand the onslaughts of Time until the very last years of life. He had a near photographic memory for bridge hands, for backpacking trails, for English pubs encountered while traveling, for books, plays, and operas, for history, for physics and math problems – in other words, for anything that interested him (and almost everything interested him) – and even at the end held onto a few cherished stories and memories.

Jim was preceded in death by the love of his life, Van, whom he lost to brain cancer nineteen years earlier, just missing their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Always resourceful, he taught himself to cook beyond the occasional barbeque after losing Van. He also survived the loss of many of his friends, his last two terriers, Bouncer and Patience, as well as the recent deaths of his younger brother Dave and daughter Lisa, although these certainly all took their toll. He is survived by his remaining children James (and Maggie), Manon (and Thax), Lisa’s husband Dave MacPhee, Danny (and Barbi), and Michael, along with five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Jim was born in Salt Lake City in 1929, but moved to Tacoma, Washington as a young boy, accompanied by his parents, his baby brother Dave, and a new fox terrier puppy, Bounce. His friends will almost certainly know of Bounce’s many exploits from Jim’s enthusiastic storytelling. Jim met his wife, Van, while pursuing his PhD in geophysics at Stanford University. Jim, Van, and their growing family, found themselves briefly in Reno where Jim taught geophysics at Nevada State University, before settling in Pasadena where Jim worked on government projects at Hycon and later as Chief Scientist at Boeing. One of his lens designs eventually wound up at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after service, another in space in NASA’s Skylab.

Jim and Van retired to San Juan Island in the late nineties, but neither slowed down in the slightest. Van volunteered in the Friday Harbor Elementary School and put on numerous plays with her students, while Jim joined Kiwanis, Dollars for Scholars, and the Friday Harbor Bridge Club. They enjoyed trips off island to see the Victoria Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and their summers on the island are remembered in terms of chamber music concerts and

Island Stage Left’s summer Shakespeare plays, the first being The Tempest in 1999. Jim’s surviving children have many fond memories growing up with their Dad reading to them The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings (just one more chapter, Daddy, please!), taking them backpacking in the Sierra Mountains, taking them to plays and musicals every summer at Occidental College. Chiefly we remember him paying for music and dance lessons, buying our musical instruments, taking us to concerts, never complaining about the cost and rarely buying anything for himself. We hope his friends on the island have similar fond memories that they can share.

The Gimlett Family would like to thank our Dad’s many caregivers who supported him (and us) over the last few years:

Urgen, Emily Anne, Carma, Elizabeth, Valeria, Maliki, Joann, Jane, Todd, Pam, Sadie, Max, Lynn, Terry, Rhonda, Evyn, Julia (PT), Scott (OT), Chan, Dr. Gunderson, Dr. Hoang, Lainey and the EMS Team at Peace Health.

A celebration of Jim’s life is being planned for a later date. Memorials appreciated “In memory of Jim and Van Gimlett” to Island Stage Left or to Archipelago Collective.