Port Townsend, Wash.
June 25, 1942 – Feb. 12, 2017
Claggett "Mac" Wheeler passed away suddenly from a heart attack, on Feb.12, 2017. He was hiking with his dog, Emma, at Tolle's Meadow in Fort Worden State Park. It was a spectacular day. Bright sunshine, sparkling water, snow-capped mountains, eagles wheeling against blue skies, just what he would have chosen.
Mac was a guy who lived large. He always had a passion and a mission. He was a devoted husband, doting father and grandfather, dog lover, hiker, history buff, electrician, hydrologist, sailor, rower, kite boarder, motorcyclist, long-distance bicyclist, camper, RVer, Big Brother, State Park trail clearer, body stepper, pickle ball enthusiast, poetry lover, voracious reader, community activist, hot tub soaker, world traveler, and a tireless explorer of unfamiliar roads and interesting ideas.
Above all else, Mac was a friend. He made lifelong friends wherever he went, touching them with his warmth, humor, positive outlook, generosity, and deep interest in their experiences and thoughts. He will be missed by so many.
Claggett McPherson Wheeler was born June 25, 1942, in Washington DC, the eldest son of Claggett McPherson Wheeler Sr. and Jane Gray Wheeler. He and his brother, Wally, attended school in LaPlata, Maryland. His father, who worked for the US Civil Service Commission, transferred to Rota, Spain in 1957, where Mac completed his last two years of high school. The family returned to Maryland in 1961, where Mac completed an electrician's apprenticeship program, and later attended the University of Maryland, graduating in 1968 with a BS in Conservation of Natural Resources. Later in 1968, he joined the US Corps of Engineers in Baltimore, where he worked as a hydrologist for eight years.
Perhaps Mac's most famous adventure was in 1973, when he flew to Seattle, bought a motorcycle, and headed north on a trip up the West Coast, across Canada, and then south to Port Tobacco, Maryland. In Montreal, he met his brother Wally, and friends Pete and Pat, for a challenging canoe trip in La Verendrye National Park. Early in his trip, he stopped in Port Townsend, a visit that made a lasting impression on him.
He moved to Eagle River, Alaska in 1976, and worked as a hydrologist, first for the Corps of Engineers, and later for the US Bureau of Land Management. In 1980, he married Jaime Jeanne Gunn. They later divorced. Their daughter, Heather, born in 1982, was the apple of Mac's eye. Throughout his life, their relationship and her happiness were incredibly important to Mac.
In 1991, he met his wife, Judy Drechsler, an Anchorage elementary school teacher, and the love of his life. Together, they raised Heather, and made a loving, active and always interesting life for themselves over 26 years. In 2000, Mac and Judy retired, and moved to Port Townsend, where they had vacationed often over the years.
Mac is survived by his wife, Judy; his daughter Heather Pease, her husband Bryce and grandson Wyatt Jo, of Vancouver, Wash.; his brother Wally of Port Townsend; his stepdaughter Jane Jessen, her husband Jay, and step-grandsons Jakob and James, of Redmond, Wash.; his stepdaughter-in-law Bernie Drechsler of Sydney, Australia; and many adoring cousins in Maryland, Tennesee and Florida.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister-in-law Joanne Wheeler; his stepson Jo Drechsler, with whom he took many a hike; and his beloved dog Rita, whose ashes are now scattered with him in his grave.
Never able to tether his spirit to a church, Mac would have enjoyed a gathering of his family and friends, to laugh, eat ice cream, tell stories, and celebrate their good times together. That gathering will take place on May 6, 2017 at The Commander's Beach House in Port Townsend, with details to be announced later. Mac was laid to rest on Feb. 16, 2017 at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Townsend. In accord with his wishes, he lies in a simple pine box, unembalmed, and in his hiking gear. His dog, Emma, attended the graveside service.
A bench in Mac's memory is planned along the trails of Fort Worden. Memorial contributions can be sent to Mac's Bench, c/o Judy Drechsler, Peninsula Credit Union, 1250 West Sims Way, Port Townsend, WA 98368. Contributions in excess of the cost of the bench will go to trail restoration and improvements at Fort Worden.