Marking the end of a life spent designing the Pacific Northwest waterfront, John Olsen, 79, passed away peacefully at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue on the evening of May 7, 2013, as a result of congestive heart failure. John was born and raised in Ballard, the oldest son of John and Jenny Olsen, immigrants from Norway. After graduating from Ballard High School in 1951, John attended the University of Washington, where he graduated with a degree in civil engineering.
John’s first job was with the Washington State Department of Transportation, where he worked on designing Interstate 5. He was the first city engineer for the City of Lynnwood in the early 1960s, then from 1968 to 1997 he worked for Reid Middleton and was vice president and director of engineering when he retired. During his time at Reid Middleton, he shared his wisdom, mischievous smile and endless Norwegian jokes with staff members. John was an excellent mentor to the engineers at Reid Middleton. As director of engineering, John reviewed each construction document package before it went out to bid, bringing his depth of experience and intelligence to each review resulting in high quality construction documents.
Shannon Kinsella, waterfront group director with Reid Middleton, remembers, “John had an amazing gift to look at a set of design plans that we had been working on for weeks and within 10 minutes would come up with incredibly thoughtful questions and insights into items that needed to be addressed in the documents that no one on the design team had considered. When praised for his insight, he would smile his characteristic grin and reply, ‘I have forgotten more lessons learned than you have yet to learn; all experience is good experience.’ ”
John was one of the pre-eminent marina designers in the Puget Sound region, having his fingerprints on nearly every boat harbor throughout the Pacific Northwest. Because of his innovative pier and float designs, he was known to his colleagues as the “Father of the Modern Marina.”
His crowning career achievement was the U.S. Naval Base located at the Port of Everett. When the Navy decided to establish a homeport in Washington, John was a member of the siting study group hired to assess three previously identified locations for the base, none of which was Everett. After looking closely at all three locations, John petitioned and ultimately convinced the Navy that Everett was a better location than any they had previously considered. Having prevailed, he then had to compete with other firms to win the base design contract for his company. In a competitive procurement, the Navy awarded Reid Middleton the much coveted contract based on John’s design and cost estimates. He was nearly single-handedly responsible for the millions of dollars that flow through the City of Everett and Snohomish County as a result of the U.S. Naval Homeport, Everett.
John was a tireless volunteer who donated much of his time to Norway Park and Norse Home of Seattle. He is survived by his devoted and loving wife Sandra, sons Kris and Doug, daughter Karen and other extended family. There will be a celebration of life for John from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at Sons of Norway Leif Erikson Lodge, 2245 NW 57th St., Seattle. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Diabetes Association.
Reid Middleton, Inc., has been providing civil and structural engineering, planning, and surveying services throughout the Northwest since 1953. The firm is headquartered in Everett and serves the aviation, education, health care, industrial, military, municipal, transportation and waterfront markets.