Our good friend, Ed Stimpson

A leader in civil aviation and a mainstay of Democratic politics in the Northwest dies of lung cancer in Boise. A friend recalls Stimpson's amazing network of pals and people he helped.
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Ed Stimpson, an other-oriented person.

A leader in civil aviation and a mainstay of Democratic politics in the Northwest dies of lung cancer in Boise. A friend recalls Stimpson's amazing network of pals and people he helped.

Ed Stimpson, a longtime leader in the civil-aviation industry, died this past Wednesday in Boise. His obituary, distributed via Associated Press from Boise and picked up by other media, was maddeningly unsatisfying. It listed his achievements as a U.S. ambassador, head of national civil-aviation bodies, and leader of a general-aviation trade association. But it gave no sense of his wonderful qualities as a human being and of his meaningful civic and political involvements.

Born in Bellingham exactly one month before I was, Ed Stimpson was the son of a beloved physician and the oldest of seven children. The hospital where both of us were born is now named after his father. We grew up in hard times and shared a firm commitment to the Democratic Party and its agenda of the time. The president of our high school Democratic Club was Sterling Munro, who later would serve as Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson's principal assistant.

In 1962, when I was being released from a recall to military service, a chance street-corner meeting with Ed led to my being hired by the then-European Communities (the present European Union). He was at that time representing the Seattle World's Fair in Washington, D.C. At the fair he met Dorothy Sortor, a Century 21r public-affairs officer, and later married her. They were brought together, I always thought, by Eddie Carlson, the driving force behind the fair and a lifetime friend and sponsor of many of us who were coming up at the time.

Later Ed went on to executive positions in government, in aviation, and in business. While an officer of Morrison-Knudsen, he and his wife Dottie bought a home in Boise which was their home base thereafter. Ed and Dottie also helped transform Boise from a conservative political bastion into the state's Democratic stronghold. In 1972, when Jackson had no chance of nomination, they campaigned hard for his presidential candidacy. Later, when House Speaker Tom Foley's reelection was threatened, they dropped everything and moved to Spokane to help in what turned out to be a losing effort.

Ed's and Dottie's strongest and longest friends have included Rep. Norm Dicks and his family, former Jackson chief of staff Denny Miller, and former Warren Magnuson chief of staff Jerry Grinstein. He and Dottie kept a photo album of their outings with the Dicks family. (Other local friends include two members of the Crosscut family, Peter Jackson, son of Scoop, and Gene Carlson, son of Eddie Carlson). Beyond politics, aviation, and the business world, Ed Stimpson had an army of friends and admirers who had met him at various intersections along the way. When he was diagnosed with lung cancer several months ago (Ed had never smoked), e-mails began flowing in great number among friends from all his lives.

I called Ed when I got the news. He had found himself short of breath while walking through the Denver airport and had gone to his doctor for what he thought would be a routine checkup. Later, the lung cancer spread to his brain.

As my own good luck would have it, I spent last Saturday with Ed and Dottie at St. Luke's hospital in Boise. He was heavily medicated. He argued unsuccessfully with his nurses that he be allowed to dress and "have lunch and conversation at a more suitable place" than at his hospital bed. Characteristically, he talked not about himself or his illness but about current public issues, his involvement in an aviation-industry study, and his pride in his part in strengthening the Idaho Democratic Party. Denny Miller visited a day later. Then Ed was sent home to hospice care. He passed almost immediately — spared, as it turned out, from a long ordeal for him and for Dottie which might have followed.

E-mails have flowed from the Stimpson network since his passing. That is because he was held in such love and respect by all whose lives he had touched. Over his lifetime he was never known to speak cruelly or harshly about another person. He preferred instead to make his own positive contributions wherever he could. His integrity shone. He was the archtype "other-oriented" person, always seeking to help other people and causes, never to advance himself. He was a good and rare human being.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.