The flag at Coupeville Town Hall flew at half mast Monday in honor of Jack McPherson, a community leader, former mayor and volunteer who had a wide reach across many organizations.
McPherson passed away at the age of 92 on Sept. 6.
McPherson’s commitment to community service began when he joined the Navy. He was commissioned as an ensign, served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, held four command positions and served in four ships as a surface warfare officer, according to an obituary that he wrote himself. He retired in 1976 with the rank of commander, and he and his family settled in a historic home on Front Street in Coupeville.
His wife, Joan McPherson, said his interest in a wide range of subjects sustained his active role in the community over the many years. She said he spent great amounts of time researching and working on various pursuits.
“He took his responsibilities seriously,” she said. “He tried to do the right thing.”
McPherson was on the Coupeville Town Council and became mayor in the late 1970s. He was also involved in a long list of organizations throughout his life, including the Lions Club, PTA, Audubon Society, Whidbey Playhouse, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the Military Officers’ Association, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America. He appeared in the Whidbey News-Times many times over the years in various roles.
Nancy Conard, the former Coupeville mayor, said many people may not realize how much McPherson did for the community.
“He was a solid person, quietly doing good in the background,” she said.
One of his greatest accomplishments, she said, was establishing the Coupeville Community Education program, which he ran as the supervisor for a decade. She said he found all kinds of people with interesting skills and knowledge to teach adult education classes at the school. She worked at the district when the program was active and remembers the buzz of activity in the building after school was out.
McPherson assisted his wife in starting a movement to preserve Ebey’s Landing, which led to the establishment of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, a first of its kind in the nation. He also was a key figure in building the Island County Veterans Memorial at the county courthouse.
He performed in numerous plays at the Whidbey Playhouse and the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. He even wrote a novel, “One More Sunrise,” which was influenced by his own experiences in war.
In addition, he was a businessman, owning two businesses in town over the years. His daughter, Coupeville attorney Molly McPherson, said he opened McPherson’s Confection mainly to give her a job during high school.
She said her father was “a big softie” who was unrelentingly generous.
On a personal level, McPherson was known as a supportive and thoughtful husband, father and friend.
Joan McPherson said he supported her and took care of the family when she decided to go to law school later in life. She ended up becoming an attorney and a superior court judge.
“Not many husbands would do that, at least not back in those days,” she said.
Dave Williams, the former harbormaster in Oak Harbor, got to know McPherson when he was a tenant. Williams recently came across a note McPherson had left him in 1998 with his traditional gift of a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum; the message encapsulates McPherson’s mischievous sense of humor and thoughtfulness.
“Each year at this time, on the anniversary of my birth, I try to do something nice for an old aviator who may be in need of stimulating refreshment,” McPherson wrote. “Normally, I just leave the package on his doorstep; but in this case, I don’t want my intentions misconstrued. (The thought that you may be a decent, cooperative and thoughtful harbormaster never crossed my mind.) This is merely a token of reconciliation between airdales and blackshoes.”
Williams described him as a “fine and honorable man” as well as a treasured friend.
“I’m filled with thanks for his friendship and for his kindnesses, and of course for acquainting me with Sailor Jerry,” he said.
Williams also remembers that McPherson changed boats often, even going between sail and power and back again. It’s a habit that Joan McPherson remembers well. She said her husband would promise to stop sailing many times as he got older and would sell his boat. But inevitably, she said, he would come home with a hesitant look on his face and she would eventually get it out of him that he bought another boat.
“He just loved sailing,” she said. “He truly enjoyed it.”
Molly McPherson said her father helped to keep her grounded throughout her life.
“He always made me feel like I was loved and had a home and security,” she said.
He also had a special skill.
“He was the best martini maker on the planet,” she said.