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UPDATE | Former South Whidbey port commissioner Gene Sears dies

Gene Sears, left, sits on a log at Bush Point in 2005 with fellow South Whidbey port commissioners Lynae Slinden and Rolf Seitle and port manager Ed Field.   - Jeff VanDerford
Gene Sears, left, sits on a log at Bush Point in 2005 with fellow South Whidbey port commissioners Lynae Slinden and Rolf Seitle and port manager Ed Field.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

Former Port of South Whidbey Commissioner Gene Sears died July 10 at his home on South Whidbey.

Sears, who represented Freeland as a port commissioner for 12 years, was 79.

A former executive for the Bon Marché clothing chain, Sears moved to Whidbey Island with his wife, Bonnie, after he retired.

They would have celebrated 57 years of marriage on Sunday, July 26.

“Gene was just a special, extremely fair and nice guy,” said Bonnie Sears. “He liked everyone, loved his garden and spending time with his black Labrador, Bear. And he loved his ice tea, his drink of choice.”

Sears served two terms as an elected port commissioner, and was a part of the group that founded the Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair and helped purchase the property in Clinton for ferry parking, according to family friend Tom Baenen.

“Gene was always straight-to-the-point, and made sure he had his facts together before venturing an opinion,” Baenen recalled. “We were on a finance committee together and went to the Port of Coupeville for seed money to run the first trade fair at South Whidbey High School.

The fair was a success and is still going strong. I attribute that to Gene’s foundation work.

“I have lost a dear friend and Island County has lost a valued citizen,” Baenen said.

Port manager Ed Field said that Sears’ approval was a high bar to pass for the port staff.

“He tended to vote no on things that he felt were not well-prepared,” Field said. “You had to present a coherent package before he voted yes.”

Field said that Sears had a lot to do with making sure Clinton Beach park was a quality undertaking.

“Once he was committed, he was tireless in seeing a port project was done right,” Field said.

Sears was defeated in his bid for a third term by Geoff Tapert in November 2005.

“I love South Whidbey and want to see it improved,” Sears said during a Record interview at the time. “We’ve done good work over the years and I want that continued.”

Field said he remembers Sears as being a strong proponent of boat ramps every 10 miles or so around the island.

“He knew how important they were, especially on opening day of boating and fishing season,” Field said.

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden served with Sears from 2001 to 2006.

“I liked that man a lot,” she said Tuesday. “He was consistent and gentlemanly in his dealings with me, the staff and the public.”

Slinden said that Sears was always fiscally conservative and always conscious of the public’s view of the port and their expectations.

“He was determined to ‘provide fiscal guardianship’ of taxpayer dollars, as he would frequently state. He had integrity, he really cared and I’m glad I got to spend some time with him,” Slinden said.

Long-time friend Tom Lorenson recalled Sears’s advice on living a good life.

“He saw things very clearly: work hard at your job, take care of your family and carefully choose your friends,” he said. “Then everything will work out fine.

Private family services are planned for Wednesday at the Langley-Woodmen Cemetery.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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