Dan Pedersen, of Langley, Wash., passed away the evening of Friday, July 30, held close by his family, wrapped in the comfort of soft hands and loving words. A few months before his death, he did us the favor of writing his own obituary. Who could do it better? In Dan’s own words (with a few minor edits):
Dan Pedersen was an early riser and often started his day at 1 a.m. He said the morning hours were the best and most magical. They were also the quietest, when he could escape deep into the lives of the fictional characters about whom he spent the last few years writing. In the night there were no distractions. With a cup of coffee and sometimes a cozy fire, he would write until dawn, and then take a nap. He loved nothing so much as a winter rain drumming on the roof while he worked.
He was 74. He is survived by his wife, artist Susan Van Etten, and stepdaughter Jennifer Angelis, of Bow, Wash., sister Frances and brother Joe. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Mildred Pedersen, of Mount Vernon, Wash., and oldest brother Fred Pedersen, of Tacoma.
Dan was born in Mount Vernon, in the Skagit Valley, and formed a deep attachment to rural life as a child. In 1983, after marrying his first wife, Suzanne Brelsford, he moved from Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood to their rural property in Issaquah. In the process he acquired a teenage stepdaughter, Jennifer. He feared that sharing a household with a teenager would be more life-changing than marriage itself, but she surprised him and soon became the unforeseen treasure in his new country adventure. Her compassion, humor and friendship were a great joy to him.
It was Dan’s love of rural places that led to the family’s move in 1986 to a home in the woods of Whidbey Island, while still employed in the city. He admitted it was irrational, impulsive and impractical, but Dan was so stubborn he was still there 35 years later. He did everything the hard way, felling trees and digging stumps by hand.
When Dan’s first marriage ended in 1991, he kept the woodland setting and the cherished relationship with stepdaughter Jennifer. Things finally came together in 1999 when he married Sue Van Etten, his brilliant wife and partner until his death, of whom he was intensely proud.
Dan’s interest in writing developed in high school and led to several summers of internship at The Skagit Valley Herald. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Washington, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, and held a succession of jobs with newspapers before going on to spend the majority of his career publishing a marketing magazine, newsletter and many annual reports for Seattle-based Safeco Corporation.
He often said the most fun he had on any job was when he worked part-time for the Mountain Home, Idaho, News, while stationed in Idaho in the Air Force. His Air Force assignment introduced him to what became his second home, the mountain communities of the Wood River Valley and Stanley, where he loved to camp and hike.
After the Air Force he returned to Seattle, entered graduate school and picked up a career in the city with Fishing and Hunting News and later Safeco Corporation.
He tolerated the city but yearned for the intimacy of small-town life. After retiring in 2002 from commuting and a corporate career in the city, he was hired by the Island County Marine Resources Committee to write educational materials and marine interpretive signage that may be found at public access points throughout the county.
In retirement, he couldn’t seem to stop writing and started a series of blogs about rural life and nature, the last of which, Dan’s Blog, developed a following of hundreds of readers nationwide and was still going strong at his death.
He self-published several books about family history and rural living before embarking on his most ambitious project, a series of mysteries. He intended to write just one mystery and called it “Final Deception,” but soon followed with a second “final” mystery and eventually 10 of them, all final, and all following the lives of several characters he said were more real to him than much of the real world itself. Most of his novels took place on Whidbey Island.
In 2011, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and, despite chemotherapy that led to six years of remission, the disease reappeared and robbed him of the energy to be as active as he had once been on his five acres of forested property. In April 2021, he was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia.
Dan and Sue enjoyed years of gardening together and the constant entertainment of dogs that brought them love. Their lives were also enriched (at times) by two outlaw cats who gave them no respect, a large wild bird population, and the adventure of windstorms, power outages and fallen trees. It was a good and full life.
Per Dan’s wishes, his family will scatter his ashes on Whidbey Island at Keystone Spit along with those of his late companion, Duncan the dog. Dan would invite you to pay your respects by taking a rejuvenating walk there in his memory. If you feel inspired to make a donation in memory of Dan, please consider Whidbey Health Foundation or your favorite environmental charity.
Family and friends are encouraged to share memories and condolences at www.whidbeymemorial.com.