Leroy Wilson Soper
Leroy Wilson Soper died peacefully on February 2, 2016, one day short of his 92nd birthday.
Lee was a lifelong, dedicated bookseller and was instrumental in helping to turn Seattle into one of the best book cities in the country. To the end, he was a tireless proponent of the written word- even recommending books to his critical care nurses.
He was born in Pomeroy, Washington in 1924. His family moved to Walla Walla in 1927, where his father John purchased what became Soper's Saddle Shop, a business that thrived for 108 years. After graduating from Walla Walla High School, Lee enrolled at Whitman College. His college education was interrupted in 1943 when he joined the Navy and served as a radio operator at Pearl Harbor until the war's end. Lee attributed his great love of reading to Agnes Little, his high school English teacher, and to having plenty of spare time for reading while in the service. He resumed his college education at the University of Washington and graduated in 1950. In 1952, he opened the Walla Walla Bookshop. The following year he married Joan Jacky of Walla Walla, where at one time Lee was Joie's newspaper carrier.
In 1958, he was hired to manage the University Bookstore. It was a good example of the right person in the right place at the right time. Seattle's love of the arts burgeoned during the 1960s. Many local authors gained national attention at that time, and regional publishers grew and developed their own unique Pacific Northwest viewpoint. Lee, with the help of a staff dedicated to creating a great bookstore, did exactly that. The University Bookstore became one of the most prominent bookstores in the country- a legacy that continues to this day.
Lee left the University Bookstore in 1969 to open Raymar Northwest, one of the first full-service book wholesalers in the country. There he was able to reach out to all booksellers in the Pacific Northwest. He was well known for taking young booksellers under his wing. The list of booksellers who refer to Lee as a mentor and lifelong friend is very long indeed.
He returned to the University Bookstore in 1977, where he remained until his retirement in 1993, having established himself as Seattle's own "Mr. Books."
Lee was instrumental in starting the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association in 1960. Fifty-six years later, that group is still helping booksellers. He helped to create the Governor's Writer Awards in 1962; was a director of the American Booksellers Association for several years; and was a board member of Allied Arts. He took great satisfaction in serving on the University of Washington Press advisory board for many years.
In 2007, Lee and Joie moved to Horizon House, where he joyfully served on many committees-including, of course, the Library Committee.
Lee is survived by his wife of 62 years, Joan Jacky Soper; their four children, Peter Soper (Suzanna) of Helena, Montana, Mary Soper Kohl (John) of Seattle, Anne Soper of Auckland, New Zealand, and Emily Soper of Seattle; and four grandchildren, Katie, Lily, Emma, and Ruby. In addition, Lee is survived by one of his three brothers, Ralph Soper of Bellevue, Washington.
A memorial celebration of Mr. Books' life will be held Saturday, May 21, 2016, at 1:00 p.m. at Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum in downtown Seattle. Enter 909 Fourth Ave. Reception to follow downstairs in the Folio reading rooms at 314 Marion St.
for parking information.
In lieu of flowers, you may donate to a charity of your choice
or buy a book from an independent bookstore in Lee's honor.