Robert Payne Karr, 83, passed away peacefully on March 16 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. Robert, or Bob as he was known to everyone, was born in Seattle on March 6, 1937. His parents, Day Payne and Susan Fitch Karr, raised Bob alongside sisters Susan and Cindy and brother Bill in homes in the city’s hilly Madrona and Mount Baker neighborhoods.
Bob attended nearby Franklin High School. His academic record has been lost to the ages. He’s better known by his many friends for his service on the sidelines as a cheerleader for the Franklin Quakers, and for his ability later in life to perform long-outdated (and frequently inappropriate) Franklin cheers before a surprised audience of grandchildren.
In the fall of 1954, Bob enrolled at the University of Washington. Over the previous summer, he and friends Ed and Alan had hitch-hiked to Walla Walla to work the pea and wheat harvests, which put some spending money in his pocket. He was also lucky to have a generous sister, Sue, who was willing to introduce one of her sorority sisters, Judith Ann Hazen, to her younger brother. Judy and Sue had recently won a singing competition with their performance of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” For this or perhaps many, many, many, many other reasons, Bob was impressed by Judy. She also liked him, and her friends and family grew to like him, too.
At this point things were set in motion. Bob and Judy graduated in 1958. They were married in 1960 (with Sue, Ed and Alan at their sides). Son Bob came in ’62 , Tim in ’64, and Brian in ’66. By 1968 they had set their eyes on a forested acre of land atop a Bainbridge Island bluff. It offered sweeping views of the Puget Sound, Seattle and the Cascades beyond.
Bob’s pea-harvest savings had long-since dried up. He was now working alongside his father Day at a downtown Seattle law firm, which is today named Karr Tuttle Campbell. He, Judy and their three young boys set down roots. They built a house out of glass, pine and cedar and surrounded it with a garden of rhododendron, salal, huckleberry, dogwood, snap peas and strawberry. They filled it with relatives and new and old friends, who would gather around a central fireplace to listen to Bob’s jokes, laugh at some of them, and soak up Judy’s hospitality and warmth.
Bob was a man of overwhelming generosity. In the days since his passing, many have come forward with stories about the ways he encouraged them to persevere through hard times, or mentored them at the moments their lives or careers most needed it. Those from broken families looked to him as a father whose steadiness became the glue that held things together. Later during retirement, he served as a founder, board member or trustee for numerous local charities including the Bainbridge Community Foundation, Islandwood and the Bloedel Reserve.
His humor never left him, even as the ravages of dementia chipped away at his memory. His love of the Pacific Northwest always led him outside, even as his painful hips stopped Bob from turning over his vegetable patch or taking long hikes in the Olympic Mountains. That sparkle never went out of his eyes, even as he succumbed to the sickness that would ultimately take Bob from us.
Tiptoe through the window,
By the window, that’s where I’ll be,
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.
Robert Payne Karr is survived by his wife, Judy, three sons, Bob, Tim and Brian, and their loving spouses and children, Suzanne, Kathy, James, Alexander, Nicholas, Tyler, Willa and Eleanor.
In lieu of flowers and gifts, memorial contributions may be made in Bob’s name to the Bainbridge Community Foundation.
ADDENDUM: The following was read at Bob’s Aug. 9, 2021 memorial service:
I have a friend Kevin from England who often makes fun of the way we name places in the United States.
“You’re all so literal,” he says.
And Kevin is right when you think about it:
Agate Pass — It’s a pass where agates can be found on the shore.
Strawberry Hill — It’s a hill where strawberries were once grown.
Ocean Shores — well, it kind of speaks for itself. Kevin would have had a good laugh at the lack of imagination that went into naming Ocean Shores.
Wing Point sticks out into the Puget Sound like a chicken wing. Don’t believe me? Look at it on a map.
The Wing Point Country Club.
My dad taught me how to swim just over there. And he and mom got us started playing Junior Golf every Thursday during the summer.
I was never very good at it.
If you sliced your drive off the first tee it would curve into an untamed patch of Scotch Broom and Alder that used to line the fairway.
We didn’t have a name for this scrubby patch of land. It was one of those in-between spaces where we went as teenagers to escape our parents, smoke cigarettes and throw water balloons at cars that drove down Grand Avenue.
Grand Avenue. Grand Avenue is an avenue, but as two-lane blacktops go it’s not all that Grand. Ferncliff Avenue on the other hand is a lovely name as the east side of Bainbridge Island is lined with fern-covered cliffs.
It’s atop one of these scenic cliffs, underneath towering cedars, that my dad and mom built a home and a life. Ferncliff.
Names are important: Bob Karr.
We’re a family of Bobs: My brother Bob, Bob Manlowe, Bob Kuebler, and if you go back a couple of generations Bob Fitch and yet another Bob Karr.
The name Bob had a gravitational force pulling other Bobs into our orbit: Bob Mayas, Bob Piper. We’re like a black hole of Bobs.
My dad Bob Karr was a lucky Bob. He was too young to serve in World War II and too old for Vietnam.
He grew up near Cascadia and attended Franklin High School and then the University of Washington where his sister Sue introduced Bob to a Sorority sister named Judy.
He was especially lucky for that. But he was also charming, funny and handsome, so Judy decided to go on dates with Bob. He would pick her up in his Purple Dodge and off they went.
Later Bob Karr turned in his Purple Dodge for a Ford family wagon: The Country Squire
Bob never cared much about the types of cars he drove. He wasn’t fancy, and never tried to impress people with his status as a lawyer or his style of clothing.
For Bob none of that stuff mattered. What mattered to Bob were his wife and his three boys.
What mattered to Bob was all of you, and in that, in knowing and loving you, Lucky Bob was extraordinary. And we were all extraordinarily lucky.
Because you’re here with my mom and my brothers today I think you know what I mean. My dad Bob was nothing but loving and supportive towards his friends and his community.
In the days following his passing, many have come forward with stories about the ways he encouraged them to persevere through hard times, or mentored them at the moments their lives or careers most needed it.
Those from broken families looked to him as a father whose steadiness became the glue that held things together. Later during retirement, he served as a founder, board member or trustee for numerous local charities including the Bainbridge Community Foundation, the Bloedel Reserve, and Islandwood.
Bob was a generous man. And we’re so grateful that you’re here to share in his generosity.
You are family, and for that our love for you is unconditional. Whether you’re a Karr or a Kuebler, a Teal or a Jacobi, a Hurlen or a Robinson, a Bignold or a Merlino. The name for you is FAMILY. You’re the people who filled Bob’s heart with joy and our house with laughter.
So when I say “I love you, Dad” what I really mean is that we love every one of you. You’re family and we’re so happy that you came to celebrate his lucky, funny, generous and full life.
I love you, Dad. … Thank you.