Spotlight on Seniors

  • Tue Jun 17th, 2008 4:44pm
  • News


Brian Cleary

Orcas Island

Brian Cleary has been a sailor most of his life, “except for about five years when I discovered girls and cars,” and has now been “forty-five years on the water, sailing about 50,000 nautical miles.”

In his Valiant 40 Windsong, Brian sailed to New Zealand via The Marquesas, Polynesia and Tonga with his wife Judy, and later sailed to Tahiti. Having experienced bad days of weather during the crossings, he says “the worst weather of all was along the Washington and Oregon coastlines. And you know, a bad day at sea is better than a good day at home.”

Some folks think talking about the weather is boring, or simply polite small talk, but Brian is fascinated with the subject. Take global warming: “there’s no question that it’s going on. The CO2 increase is well documented. The only question in my mind is what’s causing it? We need to get a better handle on the part that clouds play in modeling climate change, and how things mix to create weather — well, we need to know the unknowns before we’ll really know what causes it.”

Brian is introspective and outspoken, with a smile that could light up a room. He was awarded three degrees in Forestry from Oregon State University (OSU), where he taught for most of his professional life. “There were several years that I worked for Weyerhaeuser, but I never got to see my family. So I went back to the University to do research and teach.” At OSU he taught tree physiology, with an emphasis on reforestation, “basically a forest pediatrician.”

He speaks passionately about the growth and health of trees and forests. “For a forester every day is earth day. I’d rather look at young stands of healthy and vigorous trees than at a forest retirement home. When a forest gets to a place where we all ‘ooo’ and ‘aah,’ its years are numbered. There’s a heck of a lot of mortality in a natural forest. The most common problem is too much moisture stress, lack of water.”

While a graduate student, Brian founded PMS (Plant Moisture Stress) Instrument Company, a small business he owned and managed in Corvallis, Oregon for thirty years. “In addition to being fun it allowed me to pursue two of my passions, flying and sailing, while providing for my family and sending two children through college. In all fairness it was a team effort between my wife and me.”

Brian flew all over the U.S. and much of B.C., consulting with reforestation specialists and attending scientific meetings, and flew about 500,000 miles before giving it up in 1995. “I sold the business when I moved to the islands in 1996 to retire. Shortly after that decision was made my wife passed away unexpectedly.”

Today Brian lives in west Deer Harbor, minutes from the house his daughter Dawn Cleary and her husband Sheldon Gregory are building. Dawn is a computer consultant who telecommutes, and Sheldon works for Kenmore Air. Son Brad, trained as an engineer, is here for a visit from his home in China where he teaches English.

Brian suffers from chronic back pain, especially when standing, and maintains a rigorous weight lifting and physical therapy routine to maximize recovery from several surgeries. “Surprisingly, sailing and music play almost as important a role in controlling the back pain as do the medications and exercise,” he says.

The Cleary household is a center of activity. Within four hours Brian invites friends and visitors for a sail on Windsong, hosts a welcome party for a new neighbor, test drives a car, is interviewed, visits the post office, drops by his daughter’s house, scans some photographs, and more.

“Being a professor I grade all retirees, including myself. I failed at first but eventually figured it out and am now retired. I even get a passing grade, probably a B or B+, and that’ll go up when I find my new partner to share the last chapters of my life.”

Looking out a huge picture window at the glorious and ever-changing view of Spieden, Flat Top and Stuart Islands, Brian swivels around to say, “Throughout my life one phase has led to another and so it is even today, keeping life in balance while learning from our past experiences prepares us for tomorrow. In this little neighborhood circle I’ve found more community than ever before in my life.”

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