William Dale Barbee


December 26, 1928 – June 10, 2017

Bill was born in Spalding, Nebraska on December 26, 1928, son of A. Keith Barbee and Elinor Smith Barbee. He grew up mostly in Lusk, Wyoming where he graduated high school. He earned a BS in Civil Engineering at the University of Wyoming on an ROTC scholarship.  In June 1950, the Army didn’t need any more civil engineers so he accepted a commission with the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) and found himself on an airplane for the first time, headed for Seattle, Washington.

Bill soon met the love of his life, Marjory Dark.  They married in November 1951, and were together for 65 wondrous years. Three children were born in the next 3 years as they traveled the western and southern coasts of the United States as part of geodetic field parties.  Bill was literally surveying the country. By the late 1950’s Bill diverted into the “Coast” aspect of the agency serving on ships based in Florida and Seattle. Through support of the USC&GS Bill earned a Masters degree in Oceanography at University of Washington. 

Thus began Bill’s world explorer phase. Over the next 15 years he did oceanographic research in all the oceans of the world. Along the way a 4th child was born and the USC&GS morphed into NOAA.  His career at sea culminated as captain of NOAA’s flagship Oceanographer whose home base was on Seattle’s Lake Union. Somehow there was still time to be a husband and father.  He spent time coaching his children’s teams and guiding them with the values they needed to become contributors in their worlds. He often remarked that a strong family was a great gift to be treasured.

Bill’s career with NOAA was completed in an administrative position in the National Ocean Service office in the Washington, DC area. After retiring from NOAA in 1982 Bill become executive secretary of U-NOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System) whose offices were  located at the University of Washington. Bill and Marji were back in Seattle - this was where they belonged and where they retired. In his retirement Bill was active with the King County Democrats, serving as a Precinct Committee Officer and supporting many local candidates, and with the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Explorers Club.

This description of the arc of his accomplishments doesn’t speak of Bill’s character. He was smart and had a wicked sense of humor. Bill excelled as either the host or a guest at social gatherings. While he had a strong opinion about how things should be he also believed in a fundamental fairness - that others also had a right to believe what they did. He and Marji as partners were able to endow those around them, especially their children, with these values.  

Bill was preceded in death by his wife Marjory in 2016. He is survived by children Michael (Cindy), Martha VanCleave (Dianne Hibbard), Peter (Alexa Dobbs), Ann Priest (Chris Lemke); grandchildren Ben VanCleave, Kate Barbee Franklin, Jen VanCleave Lee, Alexandra Barbee-Garrett, Sam Barbee, Elyse Barbee, Hailey Priest; and great-grandchildren Jack and Ada Franklin and Ethan Lee.

A funeral mass was  held on Thursday, June 29th at 10:00 am at Assumption Catholic Church.

Memorial contributions may be made to Assumption Catholic Church Interfaith Committee or King County Democrats.

Guestbook at HarveyFuneral.com

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