Robert Payne Karr, 83, passed away peacefully on March 16 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. Robert, or Bob as he was known to everyone, was born in Seattle on March 6, 1937. His parents, Day Payne and Susan Fitch Karr, raised Bob alongside sisters Susan and Cindy and brother Bill in homes in the city’s hilly Madrona and Mount Baker neighborhoods.
Bob attended nearby Franklin High School. While his academic record has been lost to the ages, Bob is better known among friends for his service on the sidelines as a cheerleader for the Franklin Quakers, and for his ability later in life to perform long-outdated Franklin cheers before a surprised audience of grandchildren.
In the fall of 1954, Bob enrolled at the University of Washington. Over the previous summer, he and friends Ed and Alan had hitch-hiked to Walla Walla to work the pea and wheat harvests, which put some spending money in his pocket.
He was also lucky to have a generous sister, Sue, who was willing to introduce one of her sorority sisters, Judith Ann Hazen, to her younger brother. Judy and Sue had recently won a singing competition with their performance of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” For this or perhaps many, many, many, many other reasons, Bob was impressed by Judy. She also liked him, and her friends and family grew to like him, too.
At this point things were set in motion. Bob and Judy graduated in 1958. They were married in 1960 (with Sue, Ed and Alan at their sides). Son Bob came in ’62 , Tim in ’64, and Brian in ’66. By 1968 they had set their eyes on a forested acre of land atop a Bainbridge Island bluff. It offered sweeping views of the Puget Sound, Seattle and the Cascades beyond.
Bob’s pea-harvest savings had long-since dried up. He was now working alongside his father Day at a downtown Seattle law firm, which is today named Karr Tuttle Campbell. He, Judy and their three young boys set down roots. They built a house out of glass, pine and cedar and surrounded it with a garden of rhododendron, salal, huckleberry, dogwood, snap peas and strawberry. They filled it with relatives and new and old friends, who would gather around a central fireplace to listen to Bob’s jokes, laugh at some of them, and soak up Judy’s hospitality and warmth.
Bob was a man of overwhelming generosity. In the days since his passing, many have come forward with stories about the ways he encouraged them to persevere through hard times, or mentored them at the moments their lives or careers most needed it. Those from broken families looked to him as a father whose steadiness became the glue that held things together. Later during retirement, he served as a founder, board member or trustee for numerous local charities including the Bainbridge Community Foundation, Islandwood and the Bloedel Reserve.
His humor never left him, even as the ravages of dementia chipped away at his memory. His love of the Pacific Northwest always led him outside, even as his painful hips stopped Bob from turning over his vegetable patch or taking long hikes in the Olympic Mountains. That sparkle never went out of his eyes, even as he succumbed to the sickness that would ultimately take Bob from us.
Tiptoe through the window,
By the window, that’s where I’ll be,
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.
Robert Payne Karr is survived by his wife, Judy, three sons, Bob, Tim and Brian, and their loving spouses and children, Suzanne, Kathy, James, Alexander, Nicholas, Tyler, Willa and Eleanor.
In lieu of flowers and gifts, memorial contributions may be made in Bob’s name to the Bainbridge Community Foundation.