Steven Ross Gibson

Steven Ross Gibson. June 13, 1945 to January 29, 2024.

Steven Ross Gibson

June 13, 1945 to January 29, 2024

After fifty years in Homer, Steve Gibson died suddenly on January 29, 2024. He was at the sawmill on a blustery winter day and left this world as he lived—in good cheer, thinking about others and their circumstances, and with a characteristic pragmatic optimism.

Steve was born in Southern California to John and Marjorie Gibson, the second of three kids. His dad supported the family as a freelance writer and his mother took care of everything else. Although he grew up in the suburbs of LA, Steve felt the lure of wide spaces, other cultures, and world events from a young age. He collected stamps and spent hours at night listening to sputtering static on a shortwave radio, hoping to discover a new station on the other side of the world. As he grew older, he sold shoes, learned to sail Sabots, and started school at UCLA.

His big sister Anne remembers that he was usually the frontman in chore negotiations or debates with their father, who sometimes called him a “sea lawyer.” His convictions and facility with words served him well a few years later, when the Vietnam War was in full swing and he was able to win an unprecedented case for conscientious objection on moral rather than religious grounds. He represented himself and persuaded the draft board that he could serve his required alternative service at San Francisco State, counseling young men in the context of an unpopular war. Steve worked full time helping confused and frightened people navigate US draft laws. He was able to explain their various options and support the soul-searching necessary for making difficult choices.

In 1965 he met his future wife, Molly, when they both joined a group playing bridge during their lunch hour at the offices of Western Greyhound in San Francisco. They quit their jobs, spent the summer backpacking in the Sierras, got married, and moved back to San Francisco, where they shared an apartment with his siblings, Charlie and Anne. Steve was arrested twice in 1967 for civil disobedience in protest of the Vietnam War.

Steve and Molly had a daughter, Sam, in 1968, and they decided to move north. They rented an historic house in Jacksonville, Oregon, for $35/month and were soon joined by Anne, her family, and their younger brother, Charlie. In Jacksonville they planted bountiful gardens, Steve and Charlie began their logging life, and Molly gave birth to another daughter, Jennifer, in 1972. In 1974, after Molly and Steve had parted ways, he again felt the itch to move northward. As Charlie remembers it, before each of these moves, he would say, “It’s getting a little crowded; let’s move north.”

Steve met Susie and talked her into joining him on a long exploratory drive up through Canada and Alaska. They eventually made their way to Homer. When they came over Baycrest Hill, Steve called Charlie and said, “This is it; pack your bags.”

The next summer three families packed up five trucks, cars, and trailers with sawmill parts, welders, and food (they were down to just potatoes by the end). Naïve gypsies, they traveled north, camping in gravel pits and breaking down almost every day. Repairs used up three full sets of large oxy-acetalyn bottles. Thirty-one days later their exhausted caravan rolled down Baycrest Hill.

Steve and Susie rented a cabin at the end of East End Road, then bought a piece of property nearby and built a house. Susie gave birth to Amanda in 1976 and Ben in 1978, and Steve and Charlie created Small Potatoes Lumber Company and worked as longshoremen. Everyone cut firewood and grew vegetables and tended livestock and hand-dug waterlines and maintained electric fences and troubleshot. Steve contributed time and energy to the new McNeil Canyon Elementary School and leaned in to many forms of civic engagement. The family soaked up East End Road culture until moving to West Hill in the early 1990s.

Before that, in 1991, Steve bought an open-ended plane ticket and joined Sam for his first travel outside of North America. Together they hopped busses and trains and matatus around Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia. He was open and ready for anything, interested in everyone, and endlessly surprising in his ability to conjure up scraps of Arabic or French when it would help connect with others. After leaving Sam in East Africa he went on to India, Nepal, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

More trips eventually followed—to Europe and South America with friends, to different parts of the US with family. And through the years he longshored, worked and had long conversations with customers at the sawmill, saw kids into and out of colleges and marriages and jobs, and learned more than he ever thought he would about the spruce bark beetle. His four kids had kids of their own—ten altogether. His son, Ben, became more involved in the operation of Small Potatoes, and now he’s the one to talk to when you want a certain piece of wood.

Steve helped take care of Susie, who died from breast cancer in 2015, and then settled into his new daily routines with his devoted dog, China. In 2020 Jennifer and her family moved to Homer, along with Molly. The local family became deeper and richer. In the last decade of his life, Steve’s enthusiasm for connection changed only slightly. He sawmilled less and strolled on the spit with China more. He wondered about the best ways to reduce inequality—should he make donations locally or farther afield? He picked up old relationships and kept in regular contact with many friends and family members. His curiosity about the world was undiminished, just like his conviction that we can both improve and find joy in it.

If ever there was a man who improved the world just by being himself, it was you, Steve Gibson. We’ll miss you.

**There will be an opportunity to gather in appreciation and remembrance of Steve on Friday, February 16, 2:00-5:00 pm at the Methodist Church.