Les Gunther, a longtime conservationist, community leader and San Juan Preservation Trust legend, has passed away at age 88. Les joined the Preservation Trust’s board of trustees in 1991 after he and his wife Betsy donated a conservation easement on their San Juan Island property. He served on the board for six years, including three years as president of the organization.

His family submitted the following remembrance:

Les Gunther

Lester Capell Gunther


Beloved patriarch, dear friend, irascible coot, Lester Gunther perished Monday at his home on False Bay.

Born Dec. 3, 1925 in Paris, France, Les moved at the age of six to Montclair, N.J. Dressed by his mother in Little-Lord-Fauntleroy attire, he quickly learned his first English sentence, “Me ‘Merican boy!” in vain effort to avoid pummeling by the New Jersey youth with whom he would eventually become fast friends.

Ejected from the Boy Scouts for shooting out streetlights with a slingshot, an act for which he would shoulder life-long contrition, Les confided various subsequent undertakings, including releasing captive bats into a crowded movie theater, and introducing a spraying skunk to a family event.

These acts presaged an enduring love of wildlife that would eventually lead him on collecting expeditions around the world as the head of the Steinhart Divers for the California Academy of Sciences.

Les volunteered for the Navy in 1943 at the age of 17, operating sonar on an escort vessel in the Pacific theater of WWII. “It was that or college,” he would explain.

After graduating from USC on the GI Bill, Les moved to Portland, Ore., where he would meet the love of his life, Elizabeth (Betsy) Thayer, pursuing her throughout her college career at Stanford and proposing, as they liked to relate, beside a pile from a horse stable in coastal Oregon.

He and Betsy bore two children who at times provided no small consternation, but for whom he would demonstrate unfailing affection, support and loyalty. Once they were grown, Les and Betsy were free to relocate from Burlingame, Calif. to the San Juans, designing and building their final home here which they dubbed “Ultima Thule”.

For 30 years Les and Betsy enjoyed, and contributed to the enjoyability of, Friday Harbor. Referred to by some as “The Emperor of San Juan,” by more as their favorite “curmudgeon”, Les liked nothing more than cooking a delicious meal for a banquet of guests and presiding over animated conversations with them.

An avid boatman, Les restored a number of classic wooden motor yachts and indulged in his love for hospitality by piloting friends about on CYA outings or just a sunny summer day. Whatever the occasion, Les was the consummate example of how to flavor it and how to savor it.

Les is survived by loving wife Betsy, daughter Gretchen, son-in-law Patrick, son Erik, and grandson Forrest. They will miss him terribly and be forever grateful to have shared lives with Les.

Les requested there be no memorial. A memorial will be held Saturday, July 26, 3 p.m. at 588 Mountain Shadows Lane. All are welcome. Carpool if you can.

Arrangements are in the care of Evans Funeral Chapel and Crematory, Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. To share memories of Les, please sign the online guest register at www.evanschapel.com.

— Family of Lester Gunther

Hole in the Forest

When a tree is felled

The bark is made into a boat

The sweetest wood into a lute

The branches roof a house

The hole

Where the tree grew

Soon greens with fern

The hole in the forest

Remains the color of the sky

And people have

No way of

Hiding the tree’s huge depth

— Michael Dansfield