EVERETT — He figured his dad might enjoy an outing.
So Jim Stephanson asked his father if he wanted to keep him company while he cut away at a fallen cedar that a co-worker had offered up as firewood for an auction to benefit the Bethany at Pacific nursing home.
Raymond Oscar Stephanson was 90. His son told him he could stay in the SUV where there was a thermos full of coffee.
Ten minutes later, the nonagenarian had had enough of sitting idly by. He got out and offered to stack wood on the trailer. Shortly thereafter, he told his youngest son: “Let me have that axe. I can still split wood.”
For four days, that’s what they did, cord after cord after cord.
Raymond Stephanson’s eldest son and namesake grew up to become Everett’s mayor.
The son of Icelandic immigrants, Raymond Stephanson was part of what has been called the greatest generation. His was certainly an adventuresome life: working as a 14-year-old on salmon traps in Alaska in the 1930s; studying mathematics and joining the ROTC at Western State College before heeding the call to serve his country; bracing against a typhoon in the South China Sea aboard the USS Lofberg, a Navy destroyer, in World War II; building a mahogany boat — a 21-foot cabin cruiser — in his garage at night while going to work during the day and raising three children.
Raymond Stephanson died Feb. 25 at the age of 93. His memorial is at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in south Everett, followed by a casual gathering at 3:30 p.m. at Shawn O’Donnell’s restaurant.
Raymond Stephanson was the city’s first postmaster to be appointed based on merit instead of political patronage. For more than 150 years, the nation’s postmasters in larger cities had been appointed based on politics. That policy changed in 1969 through a national postal reform bill. Stephanson’s children were told their dad was one of the state’s first nonpolitically appointed postmasters for a city the size of Everett.
To his colleagues, he was proof and inspiration that with hard work “a street guy could make it to the top,” Jim Stephanson said. His father had come from modest means.
Raymond Stephanson started with the Postal Service on Feb. 3, 1947, the day his oldest child, Ray, was born. He began on foot delivering mail in north Everett before taking a rural route driving around south Everett. He later became a supervisor and began working his way up. Along the way, he numbered and named some of Everett’s streets. He spent a decade as the city’s postmaster, retiring in 1979.
Raymond Stephanson, who grew up in Blaine, worked at Boeing and as a commercial fisherman before joining the postal service. His love of the sea and the shoreline would be lifelong, but the need for secure employment to provide for a growing family led to his career as a civil servant.
While a student at Blaine High School, a young woman caught his eye. She, too, was from a family of eight children of Icelandic stock. He wed Lillian “Lil” Finnson in 1944. They were married for 64 years.
The young couple moved to a home in Everett’s Pinehurst neighborhood. When the house became a bit too snug, Raymond Stephanson dug a basement, building his own conveyor belt to carry out the dirt. The couple would speak in Icelandic when they wanted to discuss something they didn’t want their children eavesdropping.
They also enlisted their children to pick wild blackberries to help the family pay for summer vacations at Cama Beach.
Long before graduating from Cascade High School, each child began working, Ray Jr. at age 15 in Alaska. All three went on to successful careers. Today, Ray Stephanson is Everett’s longest-serving mayor; Janet Shields is a real estate agent in Florida, and Jim Stephanson is business development director for Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
Jim Stephanson said his father never lost his love for the water. A few years back, the father and son built an 8-foot pram in Jim’s garage. Raymond would greet his son after work with designs he’d jotted down on a napkin.
“He grew up with saltwater and it was in his veins,” Jim said. “I called (the boat) the Prince of Tides,” a tribute to his dad.
Family photos show Raymond Stephanson, at age 88, rowing on its maiden voyage off Everett’s 10th Street dock.
When they think of all their father did in 93 years, what impresses his children most was his devotion to their mother.
For much of her life, Lillian lived with a tumor inside her spinal cord. She underwent many surgeries. At 62, during a surgery, she suffered paralysis and needed a wheelchair the last 20 years of her life. Raymond Stephanson cheerfully met her daily needs, pushing her onto beaches or wherever else they wanted to go.
In her 80s, as her health waned, he visited her at Bethany and helped her at every meal.
“For me and for my brother and sister, our fondest memory is how caring he was, and how loving he was, for our mom,” Ray Stephanson said. “What a great role model for us.”
The mayor had seen that caring side of his father before. His own son, Ryan, now 41, has autism and Down syndrome and is nonverbal.
In honor of his grandson, Raymond Stephanson served on the Snohomish County Chapter of what was then known as the Association of Retarded Citizens but is now called ARC. For several years, he was the organization’s volunteer bookkeeper.
Ryan will be an honorary pallbearer.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.