John Merrill Gibson
John Merrill Gibson, 86, died on November 24, 2016 in his Cathlamet home where he spent much of his youth. John was born in Longview, Washington on January 7, 1930. He graduated from Wahkiakum High School in 1948 and attended the University of Washington.
John was the only child of Merrill and Mary Gibson. John's father was one of the first dentists in Wahkiakum County, coming to Cathlamet at the request of Dr. H.D. Fritz and pharmacist Robert Goodfellow in the 1930's.
John joined the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War where he trained as a pilot. After losing his best friend and fellow Wahkiakum County resident, Mike Doumit, who was killed when his jet fighter trainer crashed during a night training flight, John chose not to pursue an opportunity to serve as a flight instructor and left the Air Force.
John moved on to a full life of varied pursuits in jobs that took him from Alaska to Florida. He worked on the construction of the Alaska oil pipeline, and then for Alaska Airlines during its first years of existence. John left Alaska for Florida to begin a long career with Princess Cruise Lines selling cruise touring packages to travel agencies, and serving as a tour guide himself on more than a few occasions. He also created the art work for the Princess Cruise Lines promotional posters showing beautiful scenes of various cruise destinations. John was an excellent self-taught piano player and played the piano for new cruise ship launchings where many celebrities, including Audrey Hepburn, would linger beside the piano to listen to his playing.
After many productive years working in Florida, John retired to Cathlamet and bought the house where he spent most of his time during his years growing up and attending local schools. He said his enduring love of those happy early years of life in that house where he felt he was a "second son" to Mitchell and Elizabeth Doumit, whom he called "mom" and "dad," pulled him "back home" to live out the remainder of his days enjoying a stunning view of the Columbia River out his front windows.
John often spoke fondly of his time growing up in Wahkiakum County during the 1930's and 1940's. He found work delivering groceries for Doumit's store, rode the "speeder" on Crown Zellerbach's rail line up the Elochoman Valley to a summer logging job, and fished by seining for salmon using horse drawn nets on sand bars in the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria.
John loved Cathlamet so much that he wrote a book about his days growing up in and around the town. Along with beautiful reproductions of many of his paintings of local area scenes, he included a poem in which he lovingly wrote:
Cathlamet on the mighty Columbia
I want to come home
And I shall paint thee
With an eye from the colors of my youth."
John lived out the wish he expressed in his poem. During his retired years, he became a very accomplished artist. Painting almost daily in his top floor studio in his home, he created beautiful works of scenes of Long Beach, Cathlamet, and Alaska using his unique blending of colors and whimsical imagination. Many of his paintings were enjoyed by local residents over the years when he chose to display some of them in local businesses. Although he would on a rare occasion give a painting away, or "trade out" a painting in exchange for something he wanted, he rarely sold his art work despite being asked to do so many times. He thought of his paintings as "his children" and he would not part with them.
John is survived by four children: Virginia Gibson of Juneau, Alaska; Elizabeth Gibson of Priest River, Idaho; Keith Gibson of Sitka, Alaska; and Paul Gibson of Fairbanks, Alaska, and by several grandchildren. He called Mary Thomas of Cathlamet his "little sister," and she and her children all considered John to be a member of their family.
John was preceded in death by his parents, Dr. Merrill "Gibby" Gibson and Mary Gibson, his "brother" Mike Doumit, two granddaughters, and his beloved partner in life of thirty-two years, Karen Costa.
A memorial servcie will be held at St. Catherine's Catholic Church at a date to be determined this coming spring. Dowling Funeral Home will manage the burial at Greenwood Cemetery immediately following the service. Notice of the service will be provided in local area newspapers this spring.
- Paid Obituary -