John Hiller Zobel, 56, died on Jan. 30 on the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina, which he climbed with his wife, LaVerne Woods. He died as he lived, always reaching for the top.
John was a published author, recovering attorney, accomplished athlete, scholar, wit, raconteur and consummate life partner and father. He lived in Seattle for more than 30 years and, with LaVerne, was a part-time resident of Mazama. John was a partner in the Seattle office of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, where he practiced for 20 years, before becoming a full-time writer and parent in 2007. He wrote the 1998 novel “A Slight Change of Plans,” as well as other works. At the time of his death, John was preparing to publish a biography of early aviator Eugene Ely.
John and LaVerne, also a partner at Davis Wright, married in 1991. Together they climbed countless peaks on four continents and explored remote corners of the world. In 1997 their son, Eric Zobel, was born. When Eric played youth baseball, John coached youth baseball. When Eric became a serious competitive fencer, John became a fencing dad, even taking up the sport himself. John and Eric competed nationally in adventure races as the feared Avenging Narwhals. With John’s father, they saw a ballgame together at every Major League Baseball stadium.
John was a charter member of the Torrs running group at the Washington Athletic Club, with whose members he logged thousands of miles. He ran 30 marathons, finished the Boston Marathon seven times, and was a regular competitor in Methow Valley trail races. In 1995 he ran (and won) his first 50-mile race, and later completed the Vermont 100 and Western States 100-mile races.
Born in 1960 in Concord, Massachusetts, John was valedictorian of his class at Cohasset (Massachusetts) High School, and earned a B.A. cum laude in English from Harvard College in three years. He received his law degree from Stanford Law School, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif, after which he worked as a law clerk to Hon. Harold M. Fong in Hawaii.
John knew every lyric to every song ever written and every Monty Python sketch, and could make anyone laugh. He remembered birthdays and anniversaries, and every day committed little, nameless acts of kindness and of love.
John is missed profoundly by his wife, LaVerne, and their son Eric; his parents, Hiller B. Zobel and Deborah B. Wroth; his step-parents, L. Kinvin Wroth, Rya W. Zobel and Margaret R. Hinkle; and his three siblings, two half- and eight step-siblings, and 13 nieces and nephews. He is also remembered with love by the Woods family, the Torrs, his fellow writers, and by so many other family and friends. A celebration of John’s life will be held in Seattle at 4 p.m. on May 23 at the Washington Athletic Club. Those who wish to honor John may make donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, the Methow Valley Conservancy, or the ACLU.