SNOHOMISH — Robert “Stu” Williamson isn’t much for publicity and the limelight, he says.
When he jumped from 14,000 feet up in an airplane Sunday to celebrate turning 100 years old, the limelight found him anyway. Everywhere he went at Skydive Snohomish, there followed a dozen or so family, friends and staff with cameras and phones recording the moment.
The Seattle centenarian made his second skydiving jump to mark his 100th birthday in airy fashion. The company waived the $250 cost and offered to waive it next year, too.
“I recommend it to everybody who’s 99 years old,” Williamson said after landing at Harvey Field on a brilliantly clear day that reached 80 degrees. “And if you’re younger, get in practice.”
He is the oldest person to ever jump with Skydive Snohomish, spokeswoman Elaine Harvey said. The company has piloted tens of thousands of people up for skydiving jumps, and averages about 6,000 first-timers every year. On Sunday, 150 people were set to take their first plunge.
Typically, the skydiving crowd is between 18 and 50, Harvey said. They come to celebrate a range of milestones: being cancer-free, birthdays, engagements, weddings, divorces.
The attire displayed the age range of people skydiving that day. As other groups geared up, they removed their sneakers to slip into their jumpsuits over their athleisure and cargo shorts. Williamson slipped into his jumpsuit over his high-waisted pleated khaki-colored pants and checkered earth-tone button-up shirt.
“We talk about 18 to 98, now it’s 18 to 100,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people.”
For Williamson, it’s at least a twice-in-a-lifetime (and counting) event.
He made his first jump for his 99th birthday as a surprise to his family and friends. Last year’s jump was done on an overcast day. That limited how high the pilot was able to go and how far Stu Williamson could see. It was a remarkable moment for his family, however.
“He’s our hero,” said Pete Geyer, his nephew, who lives in Seattle. “The thing about Uncle Stu is he’s not a hero or a showoff.”
His grandson, Keddy Williamson, said he remembers being told to just show up at the field before learning his grandfather was going to tandem skydive. The grandson was offered a spot on that jump and declined, despite skydiving once before in his late teen years.
There was an extra spot on the plane that carried two pilots and 16 jumpers — a maximum load. When the offer came this year, he was ready to join his grandfather.
“Grandpa was the reason I jumped today,” he said. “I wasn’t even planning on going today.”
There’s about a minute of free fall, the mostly unabated plummet toward the earth. Then the instructor pulls the parachute, slowing the descent for four to five minutes before landing.
“Free fall is the most thrilling part,” he said. “You’re going so fast, you can’t really look at anything.”
Williamson spent his career in marketing, product development and sales and considered himself a creative professional. He was a husband and father of two children when one of his careers was scuttled by a reduction in the workforce during his 50s, he said. So, he went a different direction and kept working until he got his last paycheck at 88 years old.
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Having a passion and a positive attitude help keep him active and his mind acute. After all, anyone 65 years and older needs a doctor’s written permission to jump with Skydive Snohomish. His Scottish heritage, daily oatmeal breakfast and an occasional shot of single-malt Scotch help, too, he said.
Stu Williamson said he’s interested in another skydive for his 101st birthday.
“It’s remarkably safe,” he said, “if not always comfortable.”