Beloved community volunteer Keith Blackwell passed away Friday night at the age of 70 after a long battle against cancer.
He was surrounded by his family and friends, along with his two cherished standard poodle dogs Bella and Zoey, at his home in Chehalis when he passed. Community members remembered Blackwell this week for his tireless work during the flood of 2007, as well as his time on the United Way of Lewis County board, as executive director of the Lewis County Literacy Council and for his longtime involvement with the Twin Cities Rotary.
“Keith Blackwell will always be remembered by those of us who loved him as a kind and compassionate man, armed with a sharp wit and always able to bring a smile to ones’ face,” said Debbie Campbell, executive director of the United Way of Lewis County.
She said Blackwell was a man who always gave of himself to others and would be the last to ask others for help.
“Keith always stood out of a crowd with his sincere love for people and his big heart,” Campbell said. “For those of us who got to know Keith, we were very lucky for having crossed paths with him and for the precious time and many memories made together.“
Blackwell led the effort of sifting through donated clothing and supplies and assisting flood victims in need of essentials after the early-December floods of 2007. The clothing drive started with a few boxes of clothes and ended, under Blackwell’s direction, to about seven tons of supplies. For his efforts, Blackwell along with Campbell were nominated for the highly coveted Jefferson Award. The Jefferson Award is likened to a Nobel Prize for public and community service.
Rev. Alta Smith met Blackwell in the dark hours of the 2007 flood.
“Keith came in as a volunteer,” Smith said. “He walked through the door and just started working. He was just a faithful person who served the community.”
Several community members remember Blackwell’s upbeat personality.
“He was always cheerful and able to fit in anywhere,” Smith said.
State Rep. Richard DeBolt counted Blackwell as a friend, and they served in United Way together.
“Keith worked really hard at helping the community as a whole with his work with the Literacy Council and the United Way,” DeBolt said. “He will be missed dearly.”
Longtime Chronicle reporter Carrina Stanton, along with her husband Tom and their two daughters, had a close relationship with Keith and Barbara Blackwell. Her daughters called him “uncle Keith.”
“Keith and I always used to laugh telling people we met under a house,” Stanton said. “Before Tom and I ever moved back to Chehalis for me to take a job with The Chronicle, Keith and Barb lived directly across the street from Tom’s grandparents.”
When Tom’s grandfather passed away suddenly, the Blackwells showed up on a 100-plus degree day to help with the work party to clean out the house.
“We first met in a crawl space under their home,” she said. “When I first took a job with The Chronicle in 2005, Keith was one of my first interviews as the new director of the Literacy Council, but at first I did not realize we had met before. When I called him for an interview he asked if we could meet at his home since he did not yet have an office and I said ‘sure, what is your address?’ When he told me his address, I immediately recognized the street and said, ‘Did you know Harry and Lucy Crowle?’ and he said, ‘Yes, they lived right across the street’ and that’s when we realized we already knew each other. We both had a good laugh about that and continued for our entire friendship.”
When the Stantons moved to their current home in Chehalis, young Ruby Stanton was in kindergarten. On one of their first days in their new home, Keith Blackwell came to visit.
“I remember it being a sunny fall day and he and Ruby folded paper airplanes and flew them together,” she said. “That day, when Keith was leaving, Ruby grabbed both of his hands and he swung her around and she said to him ‘will you be our uncle?’ From that day forward, he was uncle Keith, although sometimes he called himself a ‘near-uncle’ or ‘nuncle’ and he often called our girls his ‘near-nieces.’”
Carrina Stanton said Keith and Barbara Blackwell’s home was always a warm, inviting place with lots of places to sit and visit and always a bottle of wine or beer and a little nosh to enjoy.
“Keith and Barb were as devoted to one another as two people could be and their love for one another extended into the love and friendship they showed those around them,” she said. “A visit with Keith always made you think, inspired you to want to do more and encouraged you to believe you could create beauty in this world through simple acts.”
Barbara on Monday was at peace with the passing of her husband.
“We had a long time to say goodbye,” she said.
Barbara Blackwell said she is thankful for the support of the community during the past years as cancer took hold. Just recently Blackwell’s Rotary friends showed up with pickup trucks and hauled out garbage and recycling materials. Blackwell was worried that after he passed Barbara would have had to do it herself. She said the help from his Rotary colleagues meant a lot to Blackwell.
“There are so many people to thank,” Barbara Blackwell said. “He has such good friends and family that love him.
Blackwell was born in Coco Solo, Panama, the son of a military father. Blackwell traveled extensively growing up, and went to high school in upstate New York. Blackwell moved to West Seattle in 1976, where his brother lived. One night he walked into a tough neighborhood bar on the waterfront in West Seattle. Barbara was bartending that night. They fell in love. Keith was 26, Barbara 21. They married three years later. Blackwell worked various jobs in the Seattle area, including teaching electronics. Barbara remembers his bucketlist of living on a sailboat. Even though neither knew how to sail, they bought a 30-foot Coronado sailboat and lived on it for three years, anchored off of Alki Point in West Seattle and also offshore from a family plot on Vashon Island.
They moved back to Barbara’s hometown of Chehalis in the late 1980s. She said they spent a lot of quiet time together.
“We both really loved working outside,” Barbara said. “We used to say our vacation was to walk in the front door and go out the back.”
Barbara also spoke about her husband’s good cheer.
“He was well loved and for a good reason,” she said.