EVERETT — Carl Gipson set aside his cane, bent down slowly, lifted his great-granddaughter to his hip and beamed with quiet pleasure.
On his 90th birthday celebration Saturday, he was surrounded by family, friends and scores of admirers.
Appropriately, the setting was a large room at the Carl Gipson Senior Center in downtown Everett. The event amounted to a two-hour tribute to a meaningful life. Roughly 200 people were there.
One by one, people stood up to praise the grandson of a slave who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a successful Snohomish County businessman, a long-time Everett City Council leader and a deacon at his church for half a century. With persistence, hard work and charm, he helped his adopted community overcome preconceptions. He taught others by example to judge people on their merits instead of their skin color.
Gipson wore a lei made of origami cranes Saturday. It was given to him by the senior center’s hula dancers who performed in his honor. The center’s Knit Wits and Happy Hookers bestowed a blanket, hats and other needle craft. He was toasted and roasted, but mainly adored.
With brotherly banter, his sons Carlton and Ron shared stories about their father.
“When I grow up I want to be just like you,” Carlton told his dad.
Many well wishers referred to Gipson as “Dad” — even though he really wasn’t their father. Carl Gipson and his wife, Jodie, often reached out to new people in town and developed close relationships. Jodie Gipson died in 2007.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said Gipson was his first phone call for advice when he decided to run for the Mill Creek City Council in 1993. Lovick’s plunge into politics led him to stints in the Legislature and as county sheriff before being appointed county executive last year.
Woodside Elementary School Principal Betty Cobbs remembers arriving in Everett as a newly hired teacher in the early 1970s. She couldn’t find a place to live.
“Someone said, ‘Call Carl Gipson,’” she said.
Gipson helped her then and Cobbs soon began to feel like she was part of his extended family. Decades later, she still invites him to dinner each Sunday.
“Best cook in town,” Gipson said with a nod in her direction.
“He is such a giant in the community,” Cobbs said. “He reaches out to everyone.”
Lucille Debose, of Everett, benefitted from Gipson’s vast network of connections. He helped her find a teaching job in the Lakewood School District in 1974 and work for her then-teen-age sons. Debose taught in the Lakewood district for 25 years and still subs there today.
Luana Solomon was 2 years old when her parents met Carl and Jodie Gipson. She said his ability and willingness to listen to people inevitably resulted in good advice.
“His door was always open to me and my family,” she said.
For all the many jobs he had — including Arkansas farmer, California ship builder, sailor, handyman, maintenance manager at an auto dealership, service station and restaurant owner, affirmative-action officer — there was one common denominator.
“My career was people,” Gipson said. “People was my product.”
Gipson endured anxious times along the way, including threats made when he moved his family in the early 1950s into an all-white neighborhood in north Everett. His membership application also was rejected by the Everett Elks Lodge fraternal organization.
Through it all, nothing stopped him from reaching out to help others.
Gipson was a Boy Scout leader, Everett High School PTA president and a member of the Rotary and the General Hospital Board, among other volunteer activities.
He has endeared himself to many people, said Debra Loughrey-Johnson, director of the senior center.
“Everybody has warm fuzzy thoughts about Carl,” she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.