Ben Gilmore, of Winthrop and South Whidbey Island, Washington, passed away mid-April 2022. He succumbed in his 66th year to a complicity of natural causes. It has been hard to accept that one once so active, well-coordinated, playful and industrious would leave so soon. We miss him sorely.
A sensitive and sweet spirit, Ben hid his vulnerabilities in acerbic wit and a repertoire of comic faces, spouting original words and dramatic movements of his own making. Busy, quick, and nomadic from a young age, Ben was fiercely independent and incisively blunt, yet he enjoyed challenging himself with others in outdoor feats of skill, whether snow camping, skiing, mountain climbing, marathons or long bicycle excursions.
From an early age he was a quick study with hand-eye coordination in painting, ceramics and carpentry, activities in which he made his living and shared community with fellow artists and woodworkers. He infused his life with kindred musicians and played numerous stringed instruments, sang, and in some instances recorded shared repertoires and some of his own songs, along with instructions for players. He was a regular for many years at the summer NimbleFingers Bluegrass & Old Time Music Workshop & Festival in Sorrento, B.C. — where he refreshed friendships and repertoires.
Similarly, he often visited another cadre of pickers and old friends in the Battleground, Washington, area on his travels throughout the Pacific Northwest. He regularly sought refuge in places like Breitenbush in Oregon’s Mt. Jefferson area, and Spirit Lake before Mt. St. Helens blew her top. He taught youth ropes courses on Whidbey, supervised Outward Bound kids in Colorado’s Rockies, and supported ceramics programs at Holden Village on Lake Chelan where he also volunteered skills in carpentry and ski trail blazing.
Ben spent his first year as a “car baby” commuting between Eugene and Portland while his architect parents, Dorothy and Phil, tested work opportunities and joined University of Oregon architecture school friends in an enduring family-like community. Ben began elementary school when the family returned to Eugene permanently, and graduated from Churchill High School thanks to teachers and advisers imploring him and snow country friends to finish. In his early teens, he spent a year in Tasmania, Australia, on another parental architectural junket.
After high school, Ben completed the 1976 cross-country Bike-Centennial trip, and set forth on adventures with friends who had a taste for skiing and back country in the Rockies. He combined coursework from four different universities to graduate in 1985 from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a BA and teaching certification in the sciences. He celebrated by experiencing France on extended bike trips and snowy mountain climbs with new friends, then returned to work in Colorado.
Ready for another move, he and one friend set up housekeeping on a neglected Whidbey site where he built several small buildings and kept busy potting, painting, building, making music and kayaking. He assumed another handyman’s special in Winthrop in 2000, developing a wide circle of friends; volunteered building skills in 2004 to a Thailand community’s earthquake and tsunami recovery; and in 2014 participated in North Central Washington seasonal fire duty. A person with high societal, political and environmental ideals, Ben often played the curmudgeon, agonizing wittily and conversing with trusted family and friends over the latest in human foibles and indignities.
Ben enjoyed his life of community in adventure, artistic expression, worldwide travel and service, and has valued many friendships across the globe. He was predeceased by his beloved parents, and many pets, especially the loyal dog Whidbey. Surviving him are his sister Janet, brother Andy, niece Isabella Leary, nephew Finn Leary, Janet’s husband Jim Leary, a pair of elderly aunts, several generations of West Coast Hanson and Gilmore cousins, and one-time spouse, Susanne Öhrvik of South Whidbey and Sweden. By far, the “Ancient Architects” families and their offspring, rooted deeply in the WRB Willcox 1940s era at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, played important roles throughout his life, validating choices he made for a uniquely artistic, collegial, and spiritual way of life. To his many loves, he sends “a bang on the ear.” And to all, we invite you to wish him well on his new journey. We imagine pop-up events throughout coming years to mark his passing and his enduring presence in our lives.