January 20, 1926 -
March 3, 2019
Lester Ezra Bradford passed away peacefully at his home in Mount Vernon, Washington on March 3, 2019.
Lester was born on January 20, 1926 in Greenwood, Maine, to Fannie Louise (Hersey) Bradford and Everett Harold Bradford. He was greeted by three older brothers: Wesley, Albert, and Elon; he in turn greeted Robert, Philip (Kenny), Laurestine, Helen, and Caroline.
When Lester was 11, his family moved to Hebron, Maine, where they farmed a small plot of land next to the elementary school.
Fannie, who had trained to be an elementary school teacher, taught only her growing family after her marriage. Everett was the night watchman for the nearby prestigious Hebron Academy, where Lester attended high school.
Upon graduation from the Academy, he studied for a year at the University of Maine, Orono under the Army Specialized Reserve Program, planning to eventually become an officer, specifically a pilot. When he realized that WWII would be over well before he completed his training, he switched to the much shorter training program for tail gunners. Just as he was deemed ready for service, the war ended. Army policy was to release longer-serving soldiers first, so Lester spent a year on various posts in the US before being discharged. His discharge papers say he was a tail gunner and a librarian.
Lester took advantage of the GI Bill to attend Yale University for his Bachelor's in Natural Sciences and Master's in Forestry. Lester had many summer jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, including trail construction, fire lookout, and smoke jumping.
At Yale, he met and fell in love with a young doctor named Winifred Ruth Smith, who was studying Chinese at the Yale University School of Languages; she was hoping to become a medical missionary to China. When it became obvious that no missionaries could be sent to China after the communist takeover, Winifred was sent to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky.
Lester's courtship of Winifred from that point was largely by letter, though he was able to make one visit to her in Kentucky. When the need for a doctor opened in Sierra Leone in West Africa, Winifred was sent to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for five months.
The mission board rejected Lester's application to provide mission service with Winifred because there was no opening for a forester. Lester took a special course for missionaries in agriculture at Cornell University. The mission board was not yet ready for an agricultural program in Sierra Leone. Lester was persistent, however and after his third application, the mission board decided it was time for agriculture to become part of the mission program in Africa.
Lester took a short theological course and was on his way by freighter to join Winifred in Sierra Leone. The freighter docked in Freetown on December 20, 1952. Lester took the train to Rotifunk the next day and the wedding ceremony, which Winifred had been painstakingly preparing, took place on December 23. What an introduction to the next seventeen years of his life!
Lester and Winnie continued to live and work in Sierra Leone, Winnie running a birth and pediatric center and Lester an agricultural test farm. During those years the couple was joined by five children: Dorcas Lee (1953), Julie Ann (1955), Joel Everett (1957), Ethan Robert (1959), and Melinda Grace (1962). They enjoyed three year-long furloughs in the U.S.: one in New York in 1955-56, one in Maine in 1959-60, and one in Oklahoma in 1963-64.
In 1968, the family moved to Bogalusa, Louisiana, where Lester worked for the Louisiana State University (LSU) extension service. One year later, they moved to Baton Rouge, where Lester earned his Doctorate of Education from LSU. His thesis topic was "A comparison of knowledge of forestry concepts with the adoption of forest practices in two Louisiana parishes."
The newly minted "Dr. Bradford #2" received a job offer from Washington State University as county agent in charge of 4-H programs, education, and forestry for Skagit and Island Counties, and the family relocated to Mount Vernon, Washington.
In 1979, Lester accepted a job with Development Alternatives Incorporated, a contractor with the U.S. State Department's Agency for International Development. He and Winnie returned to Africa, this time to Juba, Sudan, to help restore extension education there after a recent civil war. When that contract was done, Lester became D.A.I.'s Head of Mission for Sudan in the capital city, Khartoum.
His next destination was Peshawar, Pakistan, also working (indirectly) for the state department, this time on a project to find reasonable replacement crops for opium poppies.
After he officially "retired," Lester traveled overseas for many short-term, volunteer jobs which took him to Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Brazil, the Ukraine, Indonesia, and Haiti.
Back home in Mount Vernon he was an active member of the community, volunteering for the First United Methodist Church, Neighbors in Need, Northwest Trails Association, and Habitat for Humanity.
For exercise and fun he joined a group of skiers on a chartered bus for the weekly "muffin run" to Stevens Pass. He formed many lasting friendships on those trips. He was an avid hiker and a sought after hiking companion, partly due to his encyclopedic knowledge of local plants and birds.
He was a polyglot: in high school he learned French, Spanish, Latin, and German. In Sierra Leone, he learned Kono, Mende, and Krio. After retirement, he studied Russian at Skagit Valley College. He befriended the Russian teacher and her two young daughters, taking them on hikes and introducing them to his friends. Upon her return to her home in Ukraine, he continued to keep in touch by frequent emails to "My Dear Tanya".
As a result of his interest in Russia and its people, Lester was invited to join a group of American teachers going to Russia to meet with their counterparts. There he made he formed more lasting friendships. He returned to Russia to teach a high school class for two months. His interest in Russia prompted him to befriend Russian refugees in Mount Vernon.
Lester is survived by his wife Winifred, sister Carolyn Williams, brother Kenny, all of his children except Joel, and many loving grandkids and great-grandkids: Dorcas and Chris Bouey have Caleb (wife Meredith Starkey and children Silas and Freyja) and Alex (children Darby and Ashlin); Julie and Harry Guyette have Natalie (husband Micky Kuffel and children Otto and Felix), Emily, and Jeremy.
Joel is survived by his sons Everett (wife Lauren and children Brooke and Audrey) and Luke; Ethan and Kelly have Ezra, Clinton (wife Cara), Alden, and Laurestine. Melinda has Hannah (fiancé Corey Babcock and son Aidan).
We are very grateful to caregivers Gigi Roa and Amanda Morrison, who have provided invaluable support for Lester and Winnie over the last weeks of his life.
Lester lived a life guided by his spirit of love, kindness, humor, and infinite curiosity which affected all who had the privilege of knowing him.
Donations in Lester's memory may be made to the Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone for the Inland Valley Swamp Project, which was dear to his heart: (www.sherbrofoundation.org
There will be a memorial service starting at noon on March 15 at the First United Methodist Church of Mount Vernon, 1607 E. Division St.