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Alden Blethen lived a full life despite ravages of disease
Seattle Times staff reporter
When friends and family remember Alden "Buster" Blethen, they don't talk of the man who was bedridden by a debilitating disease; they talk of the man who lived life to the fullest, who bore no bitterness from the ravages of his disease.
Mr. Blethen died Thursday from Huntington's disease, an inherited neurological disorder. He was 55.
"He was a big guy and he lived life big. I don't know anybody who liked to see people have fun more than he did," George Schuchart, a longtime friend, said several years ago when he realized the disease would cut Mr. Blethen's life short.
On Thursday night, Schuchart and several other friends of Mr. Blethen's were on a skiing trip to Canada. They had a toast to Mr. Blethen and the power went out. That's when they knew he had died.
"Now he's an angel taking care of everybody,'' said Schuchart's wife, Laurie. "Everyone loves him."
Mr. Blethen's wife, Debbie, said she, too, was struck by the symbolism of the power outage in Canada: "His spirit is out of his diseased body. It's like he was saying goodbye."
Married for 32 years, the couple met at a high-school glee-club concert where he told himself he would marry her.
While in college, she would go duck hunting with Mr. Blethen's family and would find herself sometimes sitting in a duck blind at 6 a.m. reading homework from her University of Washington classes.
Born and raised in Seattle, Mr. Blethen attended Lakeside School and graduated from the University of Washington. He was such a Husky fan that he and his youngest daughter, Courtney, would go to every Husky home game.
"They had a wonderful father-daughter relationship," said Schuchart, who met Mr. Blethen when they both were sixth-graders at Seattle's McGilvra Elementary School. "They placed all the new students in the auditorium and put me at a table next to Buster. He was wearing a sailor's hat and he thrust his hand out and said, 'I'm Buster.' We were friends from then on."
Mr. Blethen is the son of former Seattle Times Publisher John Blethen and cousin of Times Publisher Frank Blethen. He worked at The Times from 1973 to 1989, rising to the position of national advertising manager, until his illness forced his retirement.
Mr. Blethen also served on The Seattle Times Board of Directors and on the Blethen Corporation Board of Directors.
Frank Blethen, Seattle Times publisher, grew up in the Southwest, but met up with his cousins when he spent summers in Seattle.
"I grew up in Arizona and didn't get to really know Buster until I graduated from college and started work at The Times," Frank Blethen said. "Even though Buster was still in college, we became very close. Even years after having to retire due to the illness, Buster remained an active member of the family board and a strong advocate for passing our stewardship legacy on to the next generation, including his two daughters.
"I have no doubt one of his great joys would be knowing that the legacy he helped create has moved well into the next generation and that his daughters are very active in the process."
Frank Blethen said Mr. Blethen loved to fly and when he and his wife went to Switzerland on their honeymoon he chartered a helicopter to take photographs of climbers on the Swiss Alps. He gave a copy of the picture to Frank Blethen and it was displayed on his wall for years.
Daughter Kerry Blethen Quinn said that before her father's death the family took old movies into his room and watched them with him.
"It was really loving," she said. "We did it for ourselves and for the energy in the room."
Mr. Blethen's brother, John, from Winthrop, said he and his brother would go duck hunting with their father and attend UW football games together. John Blethen said his brother knew how to enjoy life.
It was through duck hunting that Mr. Blethen and timber-company executive Dick Stroble became longtime friends. For years, a group of hunters would make an annual trip to Alberta, Canada, and sometimes Mr. Blethen would hire an airplane so they could fly there.
"Buster was a very spontaneous person and he loved to laugh," said Stroble, when he was interviewed before Mr. Blethen's death. "When he was no longer able to make the trip, it left a big hole in our group."
He said he would often share a duck blind with Mr. Blethen who, at 6-foot-5, made it quite a challenge to hide from the birds. "We always tried to keep Buster's profile down," Stroble said, laughing. "He used to shoot a Bismarck, a big 10-gauge shotgun with a huge shell. It took a guy 6-foot-5 to carry a gun that big. It was always humorous to watch him handle that gun."
Stroble visited Mr. Blethen frequently during the final days of his illness.
"It's amazing how strong he was and what his commitment was to defeat this debilitating disease," Stroble said.
Debbie Blethen said her husband wanted to be in shape and could leg-press 1,000 pounds.
"His goal was to keep his body in shape for the cure," she said. "He thought when there was a cure he would be in perfect shape."
To that end, the couple served on the board of trustees for the Hereditary Disease Foundation for 17 years.
Mr. Blethen has asked that his body be donated for Huntington's research.
Another longtime friend, John McCaw, said Mr. Blethen never complained about his disease.
"He talked more about living than the disease ... He was a guy who was a great friend and very unselfish," said McCaw, who met Mr. Blethen at Lakeside School.
Mr. Blethen was a member of the University Club and the Seattle Tennis Club.
In addition to his daughters and his wife, Mr. Blethen is survived by his mother, Barbara, and his longtime caregiver, Sandra Norwood, and her husband, Preston.
The family will celebrate his life April 2 at the new Trader Vic's Restaurant in Bellevue.
The family asks that memorials in Mr. Blethen's name be made to the Hereditary Disease Foundation, 3960 Broadway, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10032.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company