Remembering Rusty Harper – Seafair Pirate, West Seattleite, ‘Southern Gentleman’ – 1957-2013

At the center of our photo from this past July is West Seattleite Rusty Harper, photographed as he led his fellow Seafair Pirates ashore at Alki Beach as this year’s “Captain Kidd.” Last weekend, Mr. Harper died at just 56 years old. His wife Bonnie shares this remembrance:

Rusty Harper
October 1957 – December 2013

Rusty Harper, of West Seattle, will be remembered most recently as Captain Kidd of the Seattle Seafair Pirates this year. He loved the camaraderie and being a part of the “historic tapestry of Seattle”. He got the biggest thrill at the start of every Torchlight Parade. Looking straight down 4th Avenue at the throngs of people waiting for the first cannon blast from the Moby Duck was his favorite moment each year. His Pirate friends became his brothers, and brothers help make a place a home. His motto was “Tempus Fugit.”

His friends knew him as a Southern Gentleman. He was born in a small town in Mississippi, but spent most of his youth in Mobile, Alabama. Although he and his wife of 20 years, Bonnie, lived in Seattle since 1995, Rusty retained his beautiful accent. After a career in real estate, Rusty went to culinary school, which brought him to Seattle. He worked in the food manufacturing industry for years, but most recently joined Sage Fly Fishing on Bainbridge Island.

Rusty was on a continuous journey to enrich his mind and soul. His search led him to convert to Catholicism in his early 30’s. He was a passionate reader of literature, history, sci-fi and horror. He wanted to finish War and Peace, but only made it through the difficult part that was written in French – he had so looked forward to reading the rest in English. He loved graphic novels and comics, too. He spent many hours with his nose buried in the Dark Knight series of Batman. He loved art and music. As a baby boomer, of course there was AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, but he developed a profound love of jazz and big band music, particularly Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Travel was a big part of Rusty’s life. In recent trips to Europe, he spent many happy hours exploring art and culture. Several petite Parisian ladies working in a tiny chocolate shop might remember the shock of seeing a big redhead in a trench coat burst through the doors declaring in French, “I am an American chocolatier – where is the metro?”.

Rusty was the only son of Patricia Harper, who lives in Mobile, and the late Russell Harper. Rusty is remembered by his wife and her big family of sisters, nieces, nephews, and their children who loved their Uncle Rusty. His “hey, ya’ll”, “Roll Tide!”, big grin, and hearty laugh will be profoundly missed. Tempus fugit. Vita brevis.

Mr. Harper’s memorial is this Saturday (December 7th), 2-4 pm at The Sanctuary at Admiral (2656 42nd SW).

37 Replies to "Remembering Rusty Harper - Seafair Pirate, West Seattleite, 'Southern Gentleman' - 1957-2013"

  • JO December 4, 2013 (11:55 am)

    Wow, what a great big fun life! This is such a wonderful remembrance. I hope that the stories and memories shared help comfort you and your friends and family.

  • BlairJ December 4, 2013 (11:59 am)

    Arg! in Peace, Rusty.

  • payrollgirl December 4, 2013 (12:31 pm)

    I would have liked to have known him….never could imagine a Pirate with a southern accent. :>)

    “Although he and his wife of 20 years, Bonnie, lived in Seattle since 1995, Rusty retained his beautiful accent”

    My condolences to his family.

  • Tom December 4, 2013 (1:53 pm)

    ars longa, vita brevis
    (art is long, but life is short)

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.

    from “Psalm of Life”

  • Mike and Theresa December 4, 2013 (2:25 pm)

    My wife and I met Rusty a few weeks ago in the Cayman Islands during Pirates Week. We were in the same hotel for that week and had an opportunity to visit with you quite a bit. From the little time we had to get to know him he was a very nice and gentle man, even when he was a pirate. We are fortunate enough to have a great picture with him and his other mates. Rest in peace Rusty!

  • Patrice December 4, 2013 (2:31 pm)

    You were an accomplished colleague,a prompt car pool partner and a friend,
    You will be missed every day here at SAGE, Redington and RIO our sweet and kind compadre.

  • Chad Campbell December 4, 2013 (2:57 pm)

    I had the pleasure of working with Rusty when he was employed at the Peterson company. I miss him and will remember him fondly. We both exchanged music with one-another with I believe enriched the both of us in some small way. I know he was so proud to have joined up with the Seafair Pirates and to have opportunities to touch many lives in the process. My condolences go out to Bonnie.

  • Bugs December 4, 2013 (4:48 pm)

    Miss ya, brother! You are a reason that it is great to be a Seafair Pirate. I got to know you well, and spend amazing years with you, and witness the people everywhere we went just get caught up in your smile and laughter. Why you would want to spend your time with band of foul men like us will forever be a mystery, not to be solved, nor understood, but cherished.

  • MERIDITH REINHART December 4, 2013 (5:03 pm)

    I work with Bonnie and we have heard many things about Rusty. I only met him once when he stopped in at Premera to show off the new puppy! How excited Bonnie got when telling all of us that Rusty was in the same room as President Obama while he was running for President and visited Seattle. We are all in unity in our heartfelt thoughts and prayers for you and your family.

  • DM December 4, 2013 (5:04 pm)

    Twas sad to read of his passing. My condolences to his wife, family and friends. I’d only spoken with him once, the second to last day of The Alki Tavern, when the Pirates swaggered through the front door, singing. We wound up standing next to each other briefly and I remember laughing a lot as he greeted people. What a fun soul.

  • Barnacle December 4, 2013 (7:52 pm)

    R.I.P. My candidate, my brother and my friend. You will be missed. TEMPUS FUGIT

  • Mary December 4, 2013 (7:54 pm)

    Rusty began working with our team a couple of years ago. I loved having a fellow Alabamian who we could appreciate our humor and shared some similar Mobile history. Also could kid one another about our opposing teams (Auburn and Alabama).
    A great co-worker and an individual who truly wished to mentor and grow with his team, he was a wonderful person who inspired and lived fully. Never forgotten, Rusty.

  • Beth Knox December 4, 2013 (8:17 pm)

    Rusty was an incredibly special member of the Seafair family. He gave his time generously and with great enthusiasm. The loss of his passion and commitment to community through Seafair will leave a tremendous void. He will be deeply missed by the Seafair organization, his volunteer peers and the people he touched.

  • Ancient One... December 4, 2013 (8:44 pm)

    R.I.P. Ya Big Lug…I will miss you My Brother…Fair Winds and Following Seas…


  • MIss Conduct December 4, 2013 (10:07 pm)

    Sadden by this recent news. Rusty’s antics, smile and laughter will be missed but not soon forgotten. Thanks for the memories.

  • Fingers December 5, 2013 (1:13 am)

    Smooth sailing and kind winds Captain. Many cold beverages will be hoisted and good cigars smoked in your honor for many, many years to come. We’ll miss you my friend. We’ll miss you a lot.
    Carpe diem

  • Rita Burwick December 5, 2013 (6:22 am)

    Rusty was always a topic of conversation here at work from Bonnie, she had many stories about him, his job, his being the Seafair Captain Kidd this year, the fun times with their two wonderful, entertaining dogs. The city of Seattle lost a wonderful man with a big heart for others. Love and prayers for Bonnie, his family and friends.

  • G Rash December 5, 2013 (8:02 am)

    Ventos justos e depois dos mares

  • M N December 5, 2013 (9:08 am)

    You will be never forgotten. I liked your Seafair Pirates.

  • Jesse December 5, 2013 (9:49 am)

    Because of my job (staffing co)I was lucky to meet and work with Rusty. He was one I always loved talking with ~ a man of gusto, kind heart, lover of life, unfailing positive attitude, but most of all…an honest and genuine soul. You’re a good man, Rusty. I’m blessed to have known you.

  • Laurel Balyeat December 5, 2013 (10:23 am)

    I only met Rusty and his wife Bonnie a couple of times but both times I was struck by what lovely people they both were. It’s a terrible loss for Bonnie and his friends and a loss for West Seattle as well.

  • Terri Schwartz Butts December 5, 2013 (10:27 am)

    Rusty and I grew up together. He had a zest for life that made him so unique. I’m glad to have known him and glad he enjoyed his life to the fullest. Bonnie, I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Tammi December 5, 2013 (10:30 am)

    Rusty worked with me years ago at Briazz. He was very kind and funny. He will be missed.

  • peter December 5, 2013 (11:05 am)

    A quote I learned while visting Taiwan.

    Dont’ cry because it is over smile because it happened.

    I hope that the many stories and warm feelings brings peace and understnading to Bonnie and the family.

  • Ravie M December 5, 2013 (11:58 am)

    I am so sorry to hear about Rusty’s death. I met him only a couple of weeks ago in the Cayman Islands where I live. They came for Pirates Week. I got to sit with him at Breezes Restaurant and chat and tell him about life on the island. He in turn shared about his love for “pirating” and his enjoyment in being Captain. We exchanged stories and he was such a gentlemanly man, and so pleasant and fun. It was a short meeting but he left an indelible mark on me. So sorry to hear of his sudden passing. May he rest in peace.

  • mike December 5, 2013 (12:02 pm)

    Smooth Sailing Captain.

  • Thom Harris December 5, 2013 (1:14 pm)

    I first met Rusty back when he worked at Briazz with my wife Teresa and friend Ross. We became fast friends and enjoyed “boys night out” most every Thursday at various West Seattle hangouts to solve most of the world’s problems and a few of our own. We also camped out at various locations all over the State and watched college football from time to time. His team was the Alabama Crimson Tide and he let you know it with his boisterous pat salutation of “ROLL TIDE!”

    It was a bit ironic that in early 2004 us “yankees” moved south of the Mason-Dixon (Rusty’s original homeland) but to his dismay, we moved into “enemy territory” to the city of Baton Rouge: Home of the LSU Fighting Tigers (Alabama’s top rival — they get very serious about their football down here) so Rusty & I would needled each other via email every year when they played each other in football. Lately, he got the best of it ;)

    Rusty was a southern gentleman but could carry a big stick when needed. I admired his ability to take on new adventures and careers with great gusto. He was on top of the world when he told me that he became a Seafair Pirate for the first time and this last summer being top Captain was the proverbial icing on the cake. We missed each other when I visited this last Summer because of his Seafair and my family obligations but I did get see the Alki landing on the local news and will forever remember him leading the charge of his loyal crew. That image speaks volumes of the man. Fair Winds and Following Seas to you my friend. I’ll see you on the beach.

  • Sheridan Wilkes December 5, 2013 (7:53 pm)

    Our thoughts are with Rusty’s family and friends for the sorrowful loss of a young man with so much life left to live.
    Sherry and Gus, Baton Rouge

  • sergeant major hurricane December 6, 2013 (6:59 am)

    RIP thank you for your service to your pirate brothers.

  • Larry Barrett December 6, 2013 (9:27 am)

    Rusty was one of kind. Great friend, super colleague and awesome pirate. I will most definitely miss his cool style and warm smile.

  • Dave Ellison December 7, 2013 (12:38 pm)

    First off Roll Tide, working for you the summer of 2012 was a pleasure, the work itself was not fun or enjoyable, but your fair and even hand was so refreshing in todays corporate culture. You truly treated everyone you met with respect and dignity. running into you this past summer at the J&M and sharing a brew was one of my highlights of the year. Godspeed brother!

  • Barb Fraser December 7, 2013 (5:07 pm)

    I first meet Rusty when I worked at The Peterson Co. in Auburn. He was sweet and kind and I will remember him always.
    The world should count itself lucky to have had a man like Rusty walk upon it.
    Fair skies and following winds, Captain. I’ll miss you dearly.

  • Jamie Mitchell December 10, 2013 (6:42 am)

    Great person to photograph and southern hospitality was apparent at all the Seafair event. On behalf of all the Seafair Photographers…Rusty, your spirit will still fill our frame at the Landings and Torchlight Parade.

    Peace to all the great people that Rusty has left behind. You will see him again and his presence is still with us!

  • Myna Brown December 11, 2013 (3:24 pm)

    I just met him at Alki this year…been keeping up with all the Pirates for 10 years…..Rick Parks has watched my grand-daughter grow up. My prayers are with all of you as this is a busy time and we are so thankful for all the joy you spread to the forgotten…..God be with all of you especially Rusty’s family. MUCH LOVE

  • Lynda McKinstry Watson December 11, 2013 (7:50 pm)

    I will never forget the fun that Bonnie, Rusty and I all had playing leading roles in the theater productions at UMS during our high school years – Rusty had a flare for the dramatic that was unmatched among his peers at UMS and he was the highlight of most of the productions. His greatest role was that of Oscar Madison in the “Odd Couple” – Bonnie and I played the Pigeon sisters and we could hardly keep from bursting out laughing every time Rusty would go off script and improv! When I heard that Bonnie and Rusty were getting married, I knew they would make a perfect couple! Rusty was the best actor and Bonnie was the best singer that I had met growing up, and I am sure that their talent has delighted everyone who knew them over the years. Rusty will be sorely missed, but the memories of his flare, style, and carefree demeanor will live on forever in those who had the good fortune to have known him. May God bless you, Bonnie, with sweet memories… you are in our thoughts and prayers. Love, your high school running buddy, Lynda

  • Alyssa Kelly December 14, 2013 (9:42 pm)

    I remember when I first met you ten years ago at SK Food Group. My first job when I was 16. You made it so much fun to work there! You were always happy and tried your best to try a and make everyone else smile even in the unpleasant company. I will miss seeing you every year as a pirate and getting my Seafair pin. It will never be the same hearing the boom and knowing the pirates are coming and you won’t be there.

  • Alyssa Kelly December 14, 2013 (10:05 pm)

    I only kind of remember meeting you at Briazz when my mom worked there when I was about five or so. However I have know doubts you were the same fun and happy person as when I met you later on in my life

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