South Whidbey community volunteer dies in horse accident

Tammy Stillwell poses for a picture with her horse Maxx. She died this week from injuries she sustained while participating in a Civil War reenactment.

South Whidbey lost a dedicated volunteer and good Samaritan this week.

Tammy Stillwell died Sunday from injuries she sustained while participating in a Civil War reenactment at Willamette Mission State Park in Oregon. The Langley area resident specialized in emergency management and played leadership roles in major Whidbey crises such as the sinking of the Deep Sea in Penn Cove, was a volunteer at a half a dozen groups and organizations, and was widely recognized for having a kind and giving spirit.

She was 51.

“She really, really, really gave of herself,” said Bret Stillwell, Stillwell’s husband of 10 years.

The couple were active with the Northwest Civil War Council, a non-profit group that organizes Civil War battle reenactments. Stillwell was a corporal in the association’s U.S. 4th Calvary.

The accident occurred Saturday, July 4 at about 3 p.m. Temperatures were reportedly high and Stillwell and other troopers had retreated to a shady area under fir trees when a noise spooked her horse, Maxx. A tree branch knocked her off the animal and she fell to the ground.

Bret Stillwell said she suffered a number of internal injures, including broken ribs and a laceration to her liver. Though in pain, she was alert and transported to Salem Hospital. She was admitted to an intensive care unit, but her condition worsened the next day.

“Her blood pressure started dropping and that’s when the world changed,” Bret Stillwell said.

Doctors attempted to save her but she died during surgery. Stillwell leaves behind four children: her two biological boys, Tony and Charlie Baltazar; and Sam and Savannah Stillwell, Bret Stillwell’s children.

Many on South Whidbey were shocked and saddened to learn of her death. Eric Brooks, director of Island County’s department of emergency management, said Stillwell was a great volunteer for the organization. She served as the logistics section chief for Unified Command — a group composed of the U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Ecology and Island County — during the Deep Sea disaster in 2010, was the coordinator for the Island County Community Emergency Response Team, helped the department with public speaking and education by giving talks on emergency preparedness, she even helped around the office with filing and administrative work.

“She did a little bit of everything,” said Eric Brooks, director of Island County’s department of emergency management.

“She’s going to be missed.”

Stillwell was also the South Whidbey team leader for the Islands Chapter of the American Red Cross for several years. She passed the position to Nancy Waddell, a Clinton resident.

“She taught me on-the-job at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer,” Waddell said. “She was an energetic and creative leader who got things done and had fun doing it.”

Stillwell was a lover of animals as well. She was a volunteer at the Island County Fair, spending time in the poultry barn, Bret Stillwell said. She occasionally mixed her passion for emergency management with things cute and cuddly. During the Oso disaster, she took time off her day job to provide victims and first responders with counseling and grief management.

She was just amazing, one of those one in a million people.”

Leah Eddington,

Joli Farms

“She got baby ducks and brought them out for people to hold for comfort — that’s just who she was,” he said.

Stillwell spent muchS of her free time at Joli Farms in Freeland. Her horse was stabled there, and she just enjoyed being around the animals, said Leah Eddington, general manager of Joli Farms.

She said Stillwell had a big heart, and will never forget the time she rescued a chicken from a water trough at the farm; she took it home, warmed it up and made a new best friend.

“That chicken loved her,” Eddington said. “It followed her around everywhere.”

She left that impression with people too.

“She was just amazing, one of those one in a million people,” Eddington said. “She had a smile that would just light her face up.”

Stillwell grew up in the Seattle area and was a Ballard High School graduate. She held degrees from Northwestern College (formerly Northwestern Business College) and the American Public University System, and spent years working for Boeing  and Microsoft before transitioning to a career in emergency management.

Bret Stillwell said his wife “played hard and lived hard” — she gave up her Harley Davidson motorcycle for her horse, and was no stranger to an emergency room.

“We spent a lot of quality time there,” he joked.

Family members are all processing her sudden death differently, but Bret Stillwell said he is comforted knowing his wife died doing two things she loved: participating in a Civil War reenactment and riding her horse.

“She was just absolutely in love with what she was doing,” he said.

He added that the outpouring of community support has been a great comfort as well, and thanked people for their thoughts and kind words.

An off-island memorial service will be held for Stillwell at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. It’s open to the public.