On Christmas Eve, 2020, Ada Mae Townsend passed away in her home in Coupeville, Wash., at age 83. Although she kept her married names, Robertson and Stokes, for years beyond the marriages, her passion was always for her horses.
She is preceded in death by her father Rei; mother Flossie; and sister Lana. She is survived by her son Jim; daughter Cheri; and sister Donna.
A long-time resident of Whidbey Island, Ada was born in 1937 in Colville, Wash., where her school teacher father had a small farm. On seeing a white plow horse, her early words were “mama, dada, I want a horse!” Ada grew up in Walla Walla riding her horse Rusty across the countryside, in gymkhana games and in the Wagonettes drill team during high school.
Ada gave up horseback riding to start a career and family. In 1955, she retired Rusty to a farm in Skagit County where she could occasionally visit while she attended the University of Washington.
Shortly after graduation in 1959 with a B.S. degree in nursing she was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Japan and several locations in the Midwest and East Coast.
While in the Air Force, she bought from her father a small cabin near the beach on Maple Cove Road in Langley, Wash., as a place to return home to on vacations. Her sister Lana had come to the island a few years earlier to work at the South Whidbey Record and, shortly after their father Rei, settled on the island to be nearby. Ada left the Air Force as a captain, and started a family in Nebraska in the late 1960s and early ‘70s before making her way back to Washington state, moving the whole family into that cabin in 1976. She served the island community for many years as a nurse at Whidbey General and Naval Hospital Whidbey Island.
At the same time, she was raising her family and “building a home” — she literally built a house under the county owner-builder program with help from her father and books on carpentry, electrical and plumbing from the Langley library.
Grandaughter of pioneers, she was independent and unconventional, always doing things her own way and not letting anyone tell her what she could not do. She went on to build a second house on the old cabin site and did many remodels of other homes and rental properties around Coupeville and Oak Harbor.
During these years of hard work as a full time R.N. and part-time builder, there was no room for her passion of horseback riding, a sacrifice she made “to put a roof over” her family’s heads.
It wasn’t until around 1985 that Ada was able to reconnect with her equestrian passion. She was active in dressage, competitive trail, Backcountry Horsemen, and endurance rides. For many years Ada could be seen riding the trails on Whidbey Island and hauling her motorhome and horse-trailer rig onto the ferry. She cared for many horses over the years, most of them “off-the-track thoroughbreds” given second lives as trail ponies. Only in recent years did she lose her longest companions, Red, Blaze and Tuff.
Ada continued, however, to care for her three remaining thoroughbreds, Play, Winfield and Zydecko in her final days.