A selfless advocate for history preservation and a fountain of information about the people and events that shaped local history, Easton was a man of many projects, but never too busy to turn away people who needed help searching for their own family roots.
Name a local historic commission or society, Easton served on it. Organize a local community celebration – the City of Olympia sesquicentennial party in 2009 comes to mind – and Easton worked on it.
Even in the final weeks of a life that ended Monday night in the critical-care unit of Providence St. Peter Hospital, Easton was busy pulling local history projects together for the Thurston County Historic Commission, which he had served since its inception in 1984, and the Olympia Heritage Commission.
Or you could find Easton racking up major hours as a volunteer researcher at the state archives – he started there in 1991 – or at the state library, where he had worked transcribing historical records since 2002.
A retired schoolteacher who resided in the Olympia home his parents moved to from San Mateo, Calif., in 1950, Easton was a tireless researcher of unparalleled ability, someone who could squeeze compelling tales and anecdotes from obscure historical records, dairies and legal documents.
“His curiosity about newly uncovered history was boundless,” state archivist Jerry Handfield marveled in an email sent out to state archives co-workers Tuesday. “When we retrieved a territorial era volume used as a scrapbook for newsprint, he spent many hours with TJ (Terri Huntley, state historical records coordinator) patiently removing the glued newspaper articles to uncover the ‘gems’ of early Olympia.”
Easton was a behind-the-scenes type of historian, more comfortable in the bowels of state archives or a library than in the public eye.
“If you needed information, he would find it,” noted fellow Historic Commission member Dave Shipley.
But he could fight the good fight when the occasion arose. Working with Dale Croes, a fellow county Historic Commission member and an archaeology professor at South Puget Sound Community College, Easton last summer went public with his concerns that the City of Tumwater has not done enough to shield the Pioneer Cemetery. That cemetery is the resting place for Tumwater settlers George and Isabella Bush, from the nearby business district.
He also teamed up with Croes and another preeminent South Sound historian, Shanna Stevenson, to research and tell the story of the Bush homestead, and retrieve and properly store artifacts found there.
At the Bigelow House in Olympia, home to pioneer lawyer and Washington Territory legislator Daniel Bigelow and his schoolteacher wife, Ann Elizabeth White Bigelow, Easton was a key player in an ongoing inventory of priceless family artifacts.
Last October, I toured the home with Easton in advance of a public event commemorating the 140th anniversary of a famous house guest – national women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony.
As we stood in Bigelow’s library, Easton conjured up the image of the iconic pioneer standing in front of his broad top desk.
“Just imagine,” Easton said, his eyes twinkling and his voice infused with awe. “This is the desk where Bigelow drew up papers on territoryhood and statehood.”
Easton left behind a number of unfinished projects that I’m sure his fellow local historians will complete. They include:
• Installing an interpretive marker at the bottom of Eld Inlet, telling the story of Lt. Peter Puget’s 1792 exploration of the inlet as part of Capt. George Vancouver’s British expedition in search of the Northwest Passage.
Easton researched the marker’s content and helped with its design. It should be installed this fall in the Mud Bay area.
• Completing a project by the Olympia Heritage Commission to name the downtown alleys. The project, suggested by Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, was made easier when Easton mentioned he had a notebook at home with maps of all the alleys, and the current and past buildings that stood between them.
“He had done so much research on different topics and knew so much about local history,” said Olympia Heritage Commission chairwoman Holly Davies. “He shared all this with great humor and storytelling.”
I never thought to ask Easton why he loved South Sound history so much. His sister, Molly Swenson, 82, shed some light on the question.
“Roger’s daily mantra was: Happiness is something to love, something to do and something to look forward to,” Swenson said. “Roger always considered Washington his native home. His happy days were in Washington. He looked forward to each new day and new project.”
Along with his sister, Easton is survived by a brother, Richard Lachman, both of California, and several nieces and nephews.
At Easton’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. But don’t be surprised if some friends gather in his memory.
And wouldn’t it be nice to see a tribute to Easton that recognizes all the history he has unveiled and shared with the community?
“If and when Olympia gets a new library, the Olympia Historical Society believes that a local history room should be included in the plan,” noted society President Mark Foutch said. “If that happens, the OHS board would urge that it should be named for Roger Easton.”