Chris Marsden, a long time resident, business owner and pilot in the San Juan Islands passed away December 17, 2012, after a tragic accident on December 13th in his hangar at Boeing Field in Seattle.
Chris was born in Spokane, WA to A. Keith and Ruth U. Marsden. He was the third and only boy of four children—sisters Bonnie and Lynda coming into the world before him and Anita after. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Seattle, and received his Bachelors of Arts from the University of Washington in Geography with a minor in Urban Planning.
During college he served in the Army National Guard and then was accepted into the Navy and trained as a jet pilot during the later phases of the Vietnam War. Chris's education was mostly self-driven as he was a voracious reader of everything from almanacs to zoology.
His memory was phenomenal, with the rare ability to accurately recall dates and facts with ease and to speak knowledgeably on almost any subject. It was not uncommon to find Chris engaging others in a good debate or discussion.
On September 14, 1974, Chris married Jamie L. Johnston, and they spent their first year of marriage at the Naval base at Cubi Point in the Philippines.
After Cubi Point, Chris was stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle, and then sent to Denver, CO where he finished out his enlistment and became father to a beautiful baby girl.
Wanting more adventure out of life, Chris decided to become a bush pilot in Alaska, and set out for the northern frontier. He ended up flying out of Bethel and Barrow where he honed his skills in small aircraft, fighting the weather and carrying supplies and equipment to native villages.
Still in search of the path less taken, Chris and Jamie settled, in late 1978 on San Juan Island in northern Puget Sound. Chris first flew for Roy Franklin who owned San Juan Airlines.
However, his entrepreneurial and independent spirit drove him to be his own boss, and he started a one-man, one-plane charter flying service in 1985 called ChartAir. Within two years, he had grown the business into Air San Juan, a small commuter airline that serviced San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands, Anacortes, Bellingham, and Sea-Tac.
At its height, Air San Juan employed over 15 pilots and 31 employees, with a fleet of ten aircraft. It was in the San Juan Islands that Chris earned his reputation as an excellent pilot with a determination to provide good service to his passengers.
He was a “natural” flyer, who found challenging flying conditions to his liking, taking many late night, miserable weather flights to transport medivacs and prisoners. Fear of flying was not a condition that Chris understood, but when he noticed a passenger that seemed a little nervous, he would try to take the edge off by joking with them. One of his favorite lines was that he had just earned his pilot's license last week.
In 2002, Chris began scenic flight services out of Friday Harbor called San Juan Air Tours, spending summer months flying whale watch tours, and winter months in Gillette, WY where Jamie’s employment took them until spring of 2006. Settling back in Seattle, Chris’s scenic flight business expanded in late 2011 to Boeing Field under the name Jet City Air Tours and departing from The Museum of Flight. What he liked most about doing scenic flights was telling out-of-town visitors about the beautiful scenery unfolding beneath the plane wings. Chris knew the Puget Sound area like the back of his hands. Those who flew with Chris were enriched by the personal touch he added to their tour by describing the geological formation of the area and its historical facts. Chris believed that we lived in the most beautiful place on Earth, and never tired of flying over it.
Chris’s many joys in life included commercial flying (preferably for some necessary mission on windy, rough weather days), discussing worldly affairs, hiking in the woods, singing, wood carving, writing, and reading. But in this past year his greatest joy has been playing with his granddaughter, Sterling. She lit up his life like nothing else.
He will be missed by many friends and family members, but most by his wife of 38 years, Jamie; his daughter Timmie; son-in-law Jonathan Mitten, granddaughter Sterling; father Keith Marsden; sisters Anita, Bonnie & Lynda; mother-in-law Dorothy Johnston; sister-in-law Jana; brothers-in-laws Ben, Paul, Ryan, and Chuck; nieces and nephews Mercedes, Linda, Bill, Bud, Lisa, Todd, David, Crystal and Rhiannan; and numerous beloved cousins.
A celebration of his life is being held at 2 p.m., The Museum of Flight. Boeing Field on January 6, 2013, and a celebration will be scheduled in Friday Harbor in the Spring.
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