Richard Clyde was an honest man, well known in Langley for running a garage and being a pillar of the community.
He was also an individual who defied expectations. A character and a true original.
Clyde died Jan. 24 at the age of 92.
The Clyde name is ubiquitous in Langley. There’s Clyde Alley and Clyde Road. The famous Clyde Theatre, built in 1937, still shows movies. Clyde Motors was once adjacent to the theater at the corner of First and Anthes.
The family has deep roots. Clyde’s grandfather arrived on South Whidbey in 1924. His father, Norman Clyde, was a successful entrepreneur who started the garage and the movie theater.
Richard had an idyllic childhood growing up in Langley during the Great Depression, his family members say. He worked at the garage in high school and frequently ran the projector at the theater. Richard went back to work in his father’s garage after he returned from World War II. He eventually bought the business in 1954.
Langley was a different place back then. Richard’s son, Joe, explained that there were businesses like butcher shops and hardware stores, instead of the art galleries and boutique shops that populate the streets today. There were once four gas stations in town; now there are none.
Everyone knew Richard Clyde in the tight-knit community and trusted his business.
“It was the kind of place old farts go to hang out,” Joe Clyde said.
Richard hired Mark Myres to work at the garage on Saturdays when Myres was just 13 years old, teaching the teenager to tune up cars, change oil and do grease jobs. Myres said he learned a lot from the older man.
“Richard was really good to me,” he said. “He had a heart of gold.”
While there are plenty of stories about his kindness, Richard’s friends and family members also have stories that show his more unique side.
His daughter, Jane Morgan, said he was legendary among her friends who loved to go to her house because “you never knew what he was going to do next.” One time she was bringing friends home and hoping to make a good impression only to open the door to find her father standing on his head.
He insisted on wearing Dutch clogs at the garage.
“He looked hilarious working on cars with wooden shoes,” Jane said.
One time his wife Juanita and two kids came back from vacation to find he had painted the house a combination of bright orange and maroon.
“We thought, gee, we shouldn’t leave him alone anymore,” Jane said.
Richard loved animals and would let his children have just about any pet they wanted. Jane said she wanted a chimpanzee; he couldn’t get hold of a primate, but one day her father came home with a spider monkey.
“It was the worst pet I ever had in my life,” she said, explaining that the monkey tore up her dolls and bit her with needle-like teeth.
Richard built a fancy, heated cage for the pet monkey, but it kept on escaping. It eventually ended up at the Woodland Park Zoo.
Joe explained that Langley was once a very conservative place, but that started changing in the 1970s when the area was inundated with “hippies.” A group of them started the “Soup Coop” restaurant in downtown Langley; it “horrified” some locals, but his dad loved it, Joe said. Richard gave one of those young people, Sue Ellen White, a job pumping gas and changing oil at the garage in exchange for painting her camper.
“Here he gives this hippie girl a job in his garage,” she said, adding that she didn’t know if he got any backlash for that.
His family members said he simply didn’t care what other people thought of him. He had strong opinions and shared them, but, above all, he was a good man who defied stereotype.
“He was ornery, but he was never really a redneck,” Joe said.