Procession, memorial to be final farewell for Paul Schell

Pam Schell holds a framed picture of her recently deceased husband, Paul Schell, making a tackle while playing football at Wartburg College in Iowa. There will be a procession in Langley for Schell on Thursday, Aug. 14.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Pam Schell holds a framed picture of her recently deceased husband, Paul Schell, making a tackle while playing football at Wartburg College in Iowa. There will be a procession in Langley for Schell on Thursday, Aug. 14.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

The man who picked up mail for the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts every day for the past decade will take one final trip to the theater next week.

A procession and party for Paul Schell, who unexpectedly died July 27 following complications from a quadruple bypass heart surgery, will wind through Langley on Thursday, Aug. 14. The line will start at the Inn at Langley, owned by Paul and wife Pam Schell, and make its way through town in what organizer Stacie Burgua likened to a New Orleans funeral — though that word is one she avoids when discussing Paul Schell’s farewell.

“I don’t want to call it the funeral procession,” Burgua said. “It’s the Paul Schell Procession.”

Following the walkabout led by the car carrying his ashes, a public memorial will be held in the arts center’s Zech Hall at 4 p.m. The Schells were instrumental in founding the arts nonprofit and were driving forces in its two capital campaigns over the past decade. Both served on its board of directors as well.

His wife had a similar but different word for the string of people trailing her and Paul: a send-off.

“It’s a real pleasure for me to be able to create a passing-on I think he would enjoy,” she said while having her hair styled at the Second Street Hair Boutique in Langley on Thursday afternoon. “I have a lot of energy to do it the way he’d want.”

The Schells made a significant impact on the development of Langley over the past three decades, and especially the past 12 years. Several buildings were erected and owned by the Schells, including the Inn at Langley, the Star Store Basics building, the Giraffe Building that the Braeburn Restaurant and Gregor Rare Books occupy, as well as the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts for which they helped fundraise.

The Second Street salon’s owner, Bristol Branson, said Paul was one of the first people to see the shop when it opened a year ago. She was busily preparing the space, cleaning and organizing it, when Schell stuck his head in through the window on Second Street to tell her he was excited for it to open. That memory of being warmly welcomed by the Schells has endured.

Pam said her husband was more human than the legacy that stuck with him as a former mayor of Seattle or as a Langley developer. Perhaps the most stigmatized attachment to Schell was his time in office during the World Trade Organization protests and riots in Seattle.

“The big story isn’t really him,” she said. “It’s the little things that remind me of him.”

The couple, married 51 years after a whirlwind courtship that saw them meet while going on blind dates with other people in New York, shared countless little moments.

Raised in Iowa as the son of a Lutheran pastor and a nurse, Paul Schell was both urban and rural, and embraced elements of both worlds. He and his wife shared a love of the ballet and opera, which had Pam recalling that Paul “liked the passion of it but without the patience.” Or that he loved tending to the shrubs around WICA and operating his Kubota tractor on their property.

Pam Schell remembers the two finding a weekend home in 1975 on First Street in Langley.

“At that time, little Langley was just a lot,” she said.

Eventually, the Schells found their longtime home off Wilkinson Road near Clinton. Over the years they remodeled and expanded the house before moving there full time in 2002, after Schell lost the election.

At the time of Schell’s death, they were preparing to move into their dream home on Wharf Street, a three-story waterview house in Langley.

Schell was 76 and in the midst of trying to boost development in the Village by the Sea. Less than a week before his death, Schell presented to the Langley City Council on his idea for a bridge and elevator to connect pedestrians from Cascade Avenue to the South Whidbey Harbor at Langley — which Schell adamantly continued to call by its colloquial name, the Langley marina or the Langley dock.

Building the Langley Lift, as Schell dubbed the bridge and elevator, will be up to the city, architect Eric Richmond who designed it with Schell, and Pam.

“I’ll do the best I can, but I’m not the visionary he was,” she said.

The Aug. 14 memorial is expected to last an hour, a length which Pam said was her husband’s preferred meeting time. It will be partly a service conducted jointly by Mary Boyd, pastor at Langley United Methodist Church, and Pam’s brothers-in-law who are both pastors. The other half of the memorial will be a time for a handful of people to speak about Paul.

During the reception following the memorial, there will be a platform and microphone for people to share their memories.


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