Local musician dies on Mount Rainier

South End mourns beloved entertainer


The community lost an exceptional artist, a gentle soul and friend this week on snowy Mount Rainier.

Park rangers found the body of Devin Ossman on Wednesday roughly a mile from the trailhead where the 45-year-old Mukilteo man had parked his car Monday for a day hike on Mount Rainier.

Ossman was well-known across South Whidbey, where he often performed and where his family calls home.

“Devin was coming down the mountain,” said his father David Ossman. “He was almost home. Let us all bring him home in our hearts.”

A shock wave rippled through the South Whidbey artist community after news of his passing Wednesday, followed by an outpouring of grief, as the message of the gifted flutist’s death spread.

“There is a hole in our music community now,” said fellow musician Linda Morris.

Ossman went on a day hike Monday in Mount Rainier National Park. His wife, Candy Houser, reported him missing when he didn’t return home in time.

Meanwhile, park rangers noticed that a vehicle had been parked all day Monday at a trailhead in the Kautz Creek area. A license check in the evening revealed that Ossman had been reported missing.

A full-scale search began at 6:30 p.m. Monday night, park officials said. It was cut short due to the onset of night.

About 20 searchers and two dogs spread out to look for Ossman. A helicopter joined the search when the weather cleared on Wednesday.

Rangers, following fresh tracks in the snow, made the discovery Wednesday morning. They found Ossman’s body about a mile and a half from the trailhead midday Wednesday.

“It’s really sad. He had only 20 or 30 minutes of walking left. He almost made it,” said Lee Taylor, a spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.

Park officials warned that it’s easy to get lost on the snowy trails.

“It’s misleading to talk about trails with 3 feet of snow on the ground,” Taylor said.

“He got off track on the way back. They (the search teams) were able to follow his footprints until they found him laying in the snow,” she said.

Though an autopsy had not been performed, Taylor said it appeared Ossman died of exposure.

“There was no evidence of a dramatic injury or fall. He was found laying in the snow as if he had just stopped moving,” she said.

Ossman had not been dressed to survive an overnight stay. He was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, a jacket, a scarf and a hat.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, search-and-rescue teams were still trying to get his body down the mountain, said his stepmother Judith Walcutt said.

“He was very brave,” his father said. “He touched far more people far more deeply than he ever knew.”

Ossman, like so many others, described his son as a man with a unique quiet, gentle soul — yet a fighter.

“In dealing with the twists of life and fate, he was the most patient person I’ve ever known,” Ossman said. “He saw things through and learned whatever he needed to as he went.

“Devin was a boy of few words who became a quiet, lovely man,” Ossman added. “He was ever-gentle, filled with both music and a great love of games, which he taught and shared with his brothers and nephews among others.”

Ossman will be missed by a large extended family on the island and across the country, among them is his wife and her four children, whom he called his own.

“Devin was a beautiful soul and his death leaves an unhealable wound,” his wife said. “I will love him forever.”

His stepmother said his absence will leave a huge void in the family.

“I loved Devin as my own,” Walcutt said. “He was a wonderful brother to Orson and Preston; I always felt so lucky to have him in my family.”

People gravitated toward him, she said.

“He was dear and beloved in this community. He was a really, really gifted musician and this was such a nice community for him to come back to and play for after he moved off island,” Walcutt said.

It was only this Sunday that Ossman played for the last time on the island.

Linda Good, an island musician and music teacher, said Ossman played for her congregation Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freeland.

“He was a soloist at our congregation. He played an Irish piece. To think this was the last time he played music,” Good said.

Like many of the other musicians on the island, Good and Ossman had been friends and played in orchestras and musical groups together since the early 1990s.

Ossman had told her he would come to a St. Patrick’s Day party in Coupeville Monday.

“He said he would come,” Good recalled.

When he didn’t show up, some people became concerned.

“He had always been so responsible,” she said.

Good described Ossman as a skilled musician. His music, due to a rare combination of raw talent and high-caliber training, had a special appeal.

“At our church, we hold our August services outside. It’s a lovely setting. His flute was so pretty that the birds sang along with him,” Good recalled. “It was magical.”

Good said he was generous with his time and always pitched in for benefit concerts, even though he was trying to make a living as a professional musician.

Ossman organized a special musical event at WICA in 2007 that sold out and was planning another show for May 3 with fellow musician and friend James Hinkley.

His family will use Ossman’s May concert date for a community memorial.

The family said Ossman knew from the age of 8 that he wanted to play the flute. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1984 as a young master of the instrument.

Even though he had recently moved off the island, Ossman and his music was deeply rooted on Whidbey.

Ossman’s work as a composer and player can be heard on the two CD releases by No Band Is An Island that were recorded at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

He last worked with his father in a duo performing Lord Buckley’s version of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” for a radio broadcast, “Live From The Islands.”

Stacie Burgua, executive director of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts where Ossman often performed, said Ossman will be missed. She recalled her first encounter with Ossman.

“The very first memory I have of Devin was when we were working on the crew of ‘Hamlet’ in 1998,” Burgua said.

Ossman was providing the background music for the play on his flute.

“It quickly became clear to me that among all the many people backstage he was the one I wanted to be near. He was so calm,” she said.

Burgua called him the “quiet performer.” He could make sense out of the chaos backstage, and quietly direct people where to go.

“He had this great sense of timing and he was just so calm,” she said.

Ossman had a love and facility for all kinds of music. Besides playing classical flute, he played with the popular neo-folk ensemble No Band Is An Island.

He also played Celtic music with the band Indigo.

“He could just step into any kind of music and do a fabulous job. It’s a very sad moment for South Whidbey to lose a person like Devin. Our hearts go out to the Ossman family,” Burgua said. “I’m so completely sad. I just loved that man.”

Fellow musician and friend Randy Hudson played with Ossman in No Band Is An Island.

Hudson said it was an honor for him to play with Ossman as much as he did.

“As an untrained musician, I was in awe of his ability to read and write music,” Hudson recalled.

“He once told me that for him, reading music and translating it through his flute was like reading out loud from a book. His ability to hear harmonies made it a joy to work out arrangements in the group. He could always be counted on to add his touch in interesting and beautiful ways that lifted our music beyond the melody.”

Hudson said he was inspired and encouraged to have Ossman beside him during performances, often exchanging looks with him when they understood something musically or when particularly nice moments would occur.

“There are pieces of music I played so many times with Devin that I can’t play them now without hearing his parts joining in. Knowing that we’ll never share those moments again is just one of the many sad parts of losing this soft-spoken, gentle friend,” he said.

Morris also played in the band with Ossman and Hudson for close to nine years.

A violinist with the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, Morris often shared the classical music stage with Ossman.

“Devin was a very inner type of person, not given to showing his feelings. I think it was sometimes hard for him to be in this world, except when he was playing music, composing, arranging,” Morris said.

Like Hudson, Morris said she loved standing next to him on stage as he was such a solid musician.

“Whenever I wavered or lost my focus, I would mentally lean on Devin and get back, especially during performances,” she said.

She recalled conversations with Ossman when they were on the road together and said she had always cherished them. They were infrequent, because Ossman was a private kind of person.

Rev. Elizabeth Ketcham of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation said she’s grateful that Ossman often shared his talent with her congregation. He will be sorely missed by the church, and Ketcham said her last memory of him is a light-hearted one.

“My memories of Devin include that wonderful flute solo on Sunday evening, when, as the music of the prelude died away, a string of silvery notes cascaded into the air. I remember wondering, ‘How did he do that with a flute?’” she said.

“And then Devin blushed, clapped his hand over his pocket, and drew out his cell phone. We all laughed and clapped in appreciation of his beautiful music,” Ketcham said.

“What a wonderful gift he had. I will always remember his great talent.”

When interviewed for a Record article previewing his 2007 WICA concert, Ossman spoke of his passion for Bach and the melodies he greatly admired.

“A few of the pieces are wonderful familiar melodies and all are very listenable, tuneful and approachable for any ear. But many I chose because they are rare little gems that deserve to be listened to,” Ossman said.

Like the melodies of Bach, his family and friends knew Ossman was also a rare gem as well.

A community celebration of Devin Ossman’s life will be held May 3 at WICA.

A scholarship fund is being established in his name for young island musicians and composers.

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