Donald Putnam

  • "What an important person Don Putnam was to my family and me..."
    - Bill Voss
  • "What a great guy and a wonderful life summary. It was a..."
    - Anneliese Crawford
  • "The news of his passing bring back many memories and..."
    - Anthony Hughes
  • "Mr. Putnam was my Principal at Chester Valley for a few..."
    - Anne McWherter
  • "I am saddened to learn of Don's passing on to his next..."
    - Judy Dickson

Donald Edward Putnam, a loving husband, father, grandfather, uncle and elementary school principal known for the twinkle in his eye and an eternal optimism, died Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009, in his Bainbridge Island, Wash., home. His last view of this earth was one of his most treasured: A bright sun dappling the waters of Rich Passage as ferry boats and naval vessels trundled past his living room window. He was 74.

A memorial mass in Don's honor will be at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Alphonsus Parish in Seattle.

Born Dec. 5, 1934, in Everett, Wash., Don was the youngest of three children. A 1952 graduate of Seattle's O'Dea High School, Don went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts degree in school administration from San Francisco State University. He had a lifelong passion for the sea and military history, and was proud to serve in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Don swiftly gravitated to teaching and was both an educator and one eager to be educated for the entirety of his life. His first teaching job was in East Palo Alto, Calif., where he met Chicago native Eleonor Dombrowski and pestered her until she finally assented to an evening on the town in San Francisco. Don's extravagance of taking a taxi to each music club that night nearly scared her off, but his charm won in the end, and when an opportunity to become an assistant principal in Anchorage came his way, Don telephoned Eleonor and asked her to marry him and move to Alaska. They were married in Seattle in July of 1962 and afterward, the pair promptly loaded up a station wagon and drove north. Two years later, with a one-week old son at home, Don volunteered with rescue and cleanup efforts after the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.

During his 25 years with the Anchorage School District, Don was a revolutionary administrator. He instituted a three-in-one school at Chinook Elementary where students had the choice to study in the program that most suited their learning style. Countering the stereotype of the stern educator, Don ran his trademark "Turkey Trot" race for years at Chester Valley Elementary, in which he dressed as a turkey with balloons tied to his belt while students tried to pluck them in exchange for pizza prizes. Don additionally worked at Inlet View, Rogers Park and Muldoon elementary schools before retiring in 1987. In the '90s, he taught computer education classes at Computer City and the Older Persons Action Group of Anchorage. His sometimes colorful language made a comedic impact on his students.

Don and Eleonor moved to Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1998 after Eleonor retired as a librarian with the Anchorage School District. Shortly thereafter, Don saw Eleonor through an unexpected heart transplant. Afterward, they traveled relentlessly, dancing with whirling dervishes in Turkey and photographing blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands, as the two ticked off most of the continents they had not yet seen.

Despite losing a battle to cancer and a struggle in his final months to overcome Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Don lived to enjoy the infectious giggles of four treasured grandchildren: John, Christopher, Abigail and Declan. Don's boyish appreciation of life, song, Harry Potter and the occasional well-chilled beer will be dearly missed by his wife, Eleonor Putnam; son, Mark Putnam; daughter, Candace (Putnam) Murphy; daughter-in-law, Grace Putnam; son-in-law, Brian Murphy; and an expanse of nieces, nephews and cousins.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Guillain-Barre Foundation at Don's memorial Web site. Remembrances of Don are also welcomed and greatly appreciated at

Published in Anchorage Daily News from Oct. 11 to Oct. 12, 2009
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