Long-time career seasonal ranger Robert “Bob” Downing died Feb. 26. His death was noted today on the National Park Service website:
His family posted this obituary:
“My daughters and son-in-law were discussing with me how we could ever come up with an obituary that could even begin to express how deeply each of us in our family have been affected by this beloved husband, father and grandfather. Our son, Marc, called and asked us to read a tribute he had written about his dad which he shared in an open letter to his friends. As we read it we knew that the obituary was already written.
“To my friends who haven’t heard from me lately, my Dad just passed away Sunday. My mom, sisters, brother-in-law, and his cats were with him as he left. I was fortunate enough to visit for a week just four days before he started to slip away. He still mustered enough will to fetch tools, draw up plans for our last plumbing project and crawl under the house with me.
“He was born before the depression on March 17, 1926 and was a four-year, multi-letter athlete and valedictorian in his high school. He was accepted in the Air Force cadet pilot program in WWII and after finishing college at the University of Denver he became a physical education teacher near his hometown of Edgewater, Colorado.
“He traveled, rangered, and horse packed summers in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming until he met my mom in Yellowstone National Park in 1956. They settled on teaching in Humboldt County and working for Olympic National Park so she could be near family.
“He was one of the last of the old style do-it-yourself rangers in Olympic for 30 seasons. He didn’t get worried about ‘style things’ as he drove his own old Chrysler two-door as a patrol car for the park for a couple seasons. He still tried to get away with cleaning the roof and gutters at age 86 even after being relieved of gutter duty by the family at age 80 while using a rickety two story ladder. He raised three kids with my mom and carried a lot of responsibility on his strong shoulders.
“Along the way, he rebuilt his own house with less tools than most of us would use to repair a porch. After 60, he also helped a few other people he loved build theirs. He and two teacher friends almost completed a Starduster Two biplane while he became a private pilot. Like his father, Vernon, he loved trains. He built an N gauge railroad with its large landscape in his room after finishing up the real landscaping at our property. He built a waterfall in the front yard with help from a friend as a retirement project. The rocks are pretty big. Probably no one reading this could move the bottom three.
“He fixed things in the true spirit of “recycling” before it was a word, a product of living through the Great Depression in a mainly one parent family with his two older sisters. He was a law follower but still managed to teach me to drive a stick shift at 15 on park roads in a park truck. He embodied the words ‘willpower,’ ‘old school,’ and ‘handy,’ and never ceased working on being accountable for his humanity right up to his last breath.
“He was still thankful to my mom for all she had done even after 56 years together. He still worried about the tires on his 50 year old children’s cars. He loved his wife, children, their spouses and grandchildren and they loved him back.”
Bob Downing began his first teaching job at Lakewood Junior High School in Lakewood, Colorado, in 1949. His salary was $165 per month. In 1957 he moved to Eureka, California, and taught math at Eureka, Jacobs, and Winship Junior High Schools until his retirement in 1986. Through the years, he met students he had once taught who had discovered that his no nonsense style of teaching had been effective. Some came out of his classes understanding math for the first time.
Survivors include his wife Carolyn; son Marc Downing of Port Townsend, WA; two daughters, Judith Downing Hodgson of Benicia, CA, and Jennifer Mabey of Quinault, WA; sons-in-law Ronald Hodgson and Paul Mabey; grandchildren Andrew Robert Mabey and Alexa Jude Mabey; two sisters, Shirley Schoenberger (Mel) of Whittier, CA, and Leta Rogalla (Walt) of Lakewood, CO; and a loving, extended family which includes many friends near and far.