“A blustery circumnavigation of Waldron Island didn’t faze Walter and Ruth at all. They sat happily on the stern deck in the drizzle and wind, smiling, holding hands and content because they were together, taking in the beauty of these islands.” –Barbara Courtney, former SJPT Director of Philanthropy | Photo by Gene Helfman

A beach on the MacGinities’ conservation easement

The Preservation Trust lost a member of its extended family shortly before Christmas, 2020: Walter MacGinitie. He and Ruth, his wife of 70 years, donated conservation easements in 1998 and 2009, forever protecting 13 acres of their property—including 2,347 feet of shoreline—on the west side of San Juan Island. The property, which Ruth’s parents purchased in the 1950s, has been the MacGinities’ home for many years. There’s even a road in the neighborhood with their name on it.

In Walter’s memory, we have gathered a small “bouquet” of remembrances from SJPT board members and staff (past and present) who knew him. Ruth perfectly summed up the couples’ conservation legacy more than 20 years ago, after she and Walter donated their first conservation easement: “We hope this easement will make it possible for our grandson’s kids to come to know and love this place in the same way that we do.”

Walter MacGinitie was a good neighbor. He was a gentleman, always ready with a kind word and broad smile. Walter understood the importance of the bond between humans and between humans and all other living creatures within the community web that is Nature.

Walter did not build “good fences” but rather helped expand the commons and strengthen those bonds which sustain us all. Walter and his surviving spouse, Ruth, have been very generous long-term supporters of the San Juan Preservation Trust. They have also been exemplary stewards of their own property, donating a conservation easement on more than a half-mile of waterfront and sharing their beach and nearshore with researchers at the UW Friday Harbor Labs. Walter will be sorely missed. ­–Keith Wentworth, SJPT Board President

Walter accepting a Garry oak during SJPT’s 2010 Annual Meeting in honor of the couples’ second CE donation 

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Walter McGinitie on my annual conservation easement monitoring visits to Walter and Ruth’s beautiful property on the southwest side of San Juan Island, as well as at a number of other SJPT-related events. I have distinct memories of following along behind Walter, even when he was an octogenarian, nimbly picking his way through all the declivities along his shoreline as he pointed out an otter’s den, a newly blossomed wildflower, or a small songbird rustling around in the undergrowth.

Walter always greeted you with an impish smile that made you think he had some tremendous secret he was bursting to tell you about. And he was ever the consummate gentleman. Over coffee in Walter and Ruth’s cozy kitchen, he would ask after my son, remembering some small detail about his life. We would discuss the lack of swallows and the overabundance of deer, the trees his family planted and the trees they had lost to windstorms. He had a deep and infectious love for land, its wild inhabitants, and his family. I will miss his gracious and gentle presence in our community. –Kathleen Foley Lewis, SJPT Stewardship Manager

In late 2002, still very green in my inaugural  year at the Preservation Trust, I visited Walter and Ruth for the first of what would turn out to be hundreds of subsequent landowner meetings. The MacGinities were interested in expanding upon the conservation restrictions they had already donated on their spectacular property along the west side of San Juan Island, and I was mostly interested in proving that I wasn’t in over my head. I had no idea what I was doing, of course, and Walter saw through my act from the start. But with his big smile and soft voice, he patiently nodded as I talked and talked and talked … .

For the next 15 years I would cringe with embarrassment whenever I’d run into him, but he never took me to task. Instead he would flash that big, warm smile of his, softly ask how I was holding up, and congratulate the Trust for the work we were doing. With understated wisdom and natural grace, he patiently indulged my inexperience when a dismissive eye-roll was deserved. Walter MacGinitie was a gentle and generous man who has left an indelible mark on both our islands and on me. May I follow his example. –Tim Seifert, Former SJPT Executive Director

I first met Walter MacGinitie about 25 years ago at a Beach Walk sponsored by the UW Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), where I conducted research in the summers. I subsequently got to know him and Ruth through Preservation Trust events, other FHL activities, visits to their wonderful shoreline property, and chatting with him at Island Stage Left plays. He enjoyed talking about plays, books, land conservation, and good food.

Walter was always incredibly curious and generous. He and Ruth hosted several Beach Walks along the intertidal zone off their beach, which is filled with a rich diversity of marine organisms. I’ll never forget how excited he was at a beach walk to bring a “specimen” from one of the southern coves to us to identify. It was a Haliclystus, the stalked jellyfish, which is one of my favorite organisms!

There were many Haliclystus in the intertidal zone, but they’re well-camouflaged, which makes them hard to find. It was great fun for me to see someone so excited about an organism I’d gotten to know as a researcher, but that is so often overlooked. As soon as Walter found out what it was, he immediately wanted to learn more about it.

In short, Walter was a wonderful man who made a huge difference in the lives of many people, both through his interactions with them but also through his and Ruth’s incredible generosity to the Preservation Trust, which helps SJPT conserve island land that benefits many people. –Joann Otto, SJPT Trustee