Long time Orcas Island resident Barbara Lowe Brown passed away at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on May 20th. Her health had been in decline since suffering a hip fracture at home in late February. Barbara was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to Orcas Island with her parents in the late 1930s. She grew up at Arcady Farm outside of Deer Harbor, boating, riding horses, and enjoying the other pleasures of an island childhood. (On very good days, her father might dole out some of the Hershey’s chocolate he always kept hidden on a high shelf in his workshop.) Barbara attended island schools and then Annie Wright Academy in Tacoma for her high school years. In college, she pursued interests in fine arts, anthropology, and museum studies, earning a bachelor’s degree with honors from Ohio University, and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona. She was an avid photographer and maintained a full darkroom at her home. Her passion for Native American history took her on many adventures up the Northwest Coast, including a voyage on the ill-fated Royal Princess, which foundered and sank in Hecate Strait in 1984, providing her with the singular experience of being rescued from a lifeboat at sea.
Barbara was deeply committed to the island community, serving on the county planning commission, and the boards of several local nonprofits, and throwing her support behind a wide range of causes, from affordable housing to environmental conservation, marine science, music, local history, and many more. She was a friend and mentor to many, and her calm strength, kindness, and humor will be missed by all who knew her. Barbara is survived by two nephews, Earl Cilley and Richard Rosecky, and three grand-nephews, Pete Cilley, Max Hanson, and Thor Hanson. A celebration of Barbara’s life will be held on Orcas at a later date, when it’s safe to gather. Remembrances can be made to The San Juan Preservation Trust, OPAL, The Seadoc Society, or the local charity of your choice.