Derek Clinton Poon

Nov 11, 1945 – Mar 7, 2017

Derek Clinton Poon obituary image 1

 

Obituary

Derek Poon

 

November 11, 1945 – March 7, 2017

 

Derek Clinton Poon died last week at age 71.  On November 11th, 1956 he celebrated his eleventh birthday on board a ship with his parents, James and Rose, and his two brothers. The voyage was life changing for this young boy and his family.  They were en route to America from Hong Kong, where they had had a comfortable life, and now everything had changed.  They would adopt a new country, a new English language, a new culture — they would start from scratch as so many before them had done, as so many who followed, and in a country that didn’t have the best history of welcoming the foreigners that it had called to its shores.  But this family had grit and aspirations, and they made a good life in San Francisco.

 

Derek worked hard in school and learned American English; he joined the Boys Scouts and then proudly earned its highest achievement as an Eagle Scout. And his interest in the natural world propelled him into studying Zoology at the University of California, Berkley, where he earned a BA in 1967. He wasn’t finished, though. He continued his education, focusing on fisheries at Oregon State University. A summer opportunity led Derek to Alaska, where he spent many formative years doing doctoral research on salmon ecology. He earned a Ph.D in Fisheries Biology in 1977. To his daughter, he often repeated something she has always remembered:  “education is something no one can ever take away.”

 

When he was studying at Oregon State, Derek met Vivian Chesterley and they married in January 1971. They were together for 23 years, continuing to proudly raise their daughter, Laina, who was born in September 1978. Along the way, Derek faced landlords who didn’t want to rent to him, the young couple had to worry about discrimination against their interracial marriage, and, yet, Derek never complained. Instead, he spent his life accepting others and treating them with the respect and dignity he didn’t always get to enjoy.

 

Derek was extremely proud of his daughter, Laina, and made sure all of his friends knew it. He loved and supported her and her wife and three daughters unconditionally. He tried his level best to help in every way they asked and offered support in ways they hadn’t even considered. And though he was bit of a germaphobe, that didn’t stop him from doing everything he could to help out with their adorable little petri dishes. He practically donned a hazmat suit to pick up dog poo in their back yard so the kids could play outside when moms were busy, but he didn’t bat an eyelash when given a pile of dripping noodles by his two year old granddaughter practicing with chopsticks.

 

While family was top priority to Derek, his career was a close second. He worked in the environmental field at all levels of government.  He was Chief of King County’s Natural Resource Planning section, an Endangered Species Act Biologist in the Sustainable Fisheries Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and retired as a Regional Salmon Ecologist for the US Environmental Protection Agency. His colleagues praised his passion, insights, humor, kindness, and perseverance in championing the cause of birds, fish, streams, and forests.

 

Ultimately, Derek found his greatest overall satisfaction as a volunteer environmental consultant after retiring in 2011. He felt liberated and was exhilarated at being able to press forward with a bold conservation agenda without the weight of politics holding him down. Now it was all about the science, about what he believed, about fully embracing his passion. As a result of his efforts, he received an Environmental Award in 2014 for his work with the Olympic Forest Coalition.

 

Derek had two other passions: running and music. He suffered a stroke in 2004, and used that old grit and determination to fight for a strong recovery, determined to live a life of health and fitness. He started walking and then walked his way through the Seattle Half Marathon each of the two years after his stroke. Beginning in year three, he picked up the pace and he started running.  All told, he logged 14 half marathons, some with his daughter, Laina. He’d plug in his earphones to listen to news podcasts, then switch over to his vast and carefully curated music collection.

 

As Derek wrote in a Christmas letter, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint. May all of you share my philosophy that whether running or living, finish smiling and standing up.” To those of us left behind, Derek’s finish line came too soon, but he left this earth as he had wished: happy, engaged, active, and beloved by many family and friends.

 

Derek is survived by his older brother, Leonard Poon, daughter, Laina Poon, and three young granddaughters, Kaya, Shay, and Lissi. Memorial contributions can be made to EarthJustice, the Olympic Forest Coalition, or the Washington Environmental Council.

Guestbook

Dick Crone
Friend, OR
Mar 23, 2017

I am saddened by Derek's passing. We were good friends for many years. We met in the 1960s at NOAA's Little Port Walter field research station in Southeast Alaska. We were part of a seasonal crew of mostly graduate students conducting research on salmon and related topics. The members of this group assisted each other when needed to carry out the work required. That made for an excellent learning experience for everybody. Derek and I worked together for several enjoyable years at Little Port Walter. He was always upbeat as well as thorough, precise, and dependable. Always a pleasure to be around. In the late 1970s, Derek became the general manager of a newly formed regional aquaculture association based in Sitka and funded by commercial fishermen. In 1979, Derek offered me a project leader position with this group. I accepted the offer and worked there for the next 24 years. I am very grateful to Derek for that opportunity to do challenging and rewarding work in such remote and beautiful country. I will miss him very much.

Teresa Kubo
Portland, OR
Mar 21, 2017

I am so sorry to hear of Derek's passing. He was a truly wonderful man, and an inspiration to many. I had the great privilege to work with him on several projects at EPA. I always admired his adherence to the science. You could always depend on Derek to take the hard position when it was needed - even (maybe even especially) when it was unpopular. He was also unfailingly warm and kind. He will be missed. I wish his dear family love and peace.

Bill Heard
Auke Bay, AK
Mar 18, 2017

I worked with Derek in the late 1960s and early 1970s at the NOAA Fisheries Little Port Walter Marine Station on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska. At that time Derek was studying salmon incubation systems as part of his advanced degree program where he was thoroughly dedicated to conducting high quality scientific research. While focused on his own studies he was also a vital part of a team of other scientist working on other projects. Several of Laina’s photos in the slide show honoring Derek show some of this Little Port Walter team. Derek’s enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity, and constructive input was a valued asset to all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.

D. Harris
Seattle , Wa
Mar 17, 2017

Dear Family, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your dear loved one and send you my sincere condolences. May you find comfort from God's word at Revelation 21:3,4 and John 5:28,29. Heartfelt prayers are with you during this difficult time.

jack damron
newport news, VA
Mar 16, 2017

I was honored to know Derek when he operated a small research hatchery on Whiskey Creek, Netarts Bay, Oregon. Our paths crossed later while we were both working on salmon-related fish and wildlife work in the Northwest. We shared many evenings with salmon (what else?) and beer where he was unfailingly patient and passionate in trying to explain salmon biology to a newby.

Derek was a highly-intelligent professional and a kind and gentle soul. He was extremely proud of his daughter, Laina, and it's good to read of her devotion to his life and memory.

Goodbye old friend.

Carolyn and Jim Gove
Anchorage, AK
Mar 15, 2017

We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend Derek and grieve for Laina and her family. Derek and Vivian welcomed me into their home and lives when I was a college student visiting Sitka and we remained friends for over 35 years. Derek mentored, inspired, and supported me and my family in many ways. He worked passionately to better the world and was so proud and involved with his family. We will miss him very much.

Elaine Somers
Monroe, WA
Mar 15, 2017

Derek was a wonderful colleague and faithful friend. I was fortunate to work for him at King County, where his environmental passion and policy insight led him to prescribe studies and actions that made a difference. Later, at EPA, he was always eager to help when we sought his expertise on salmon. On the side, he was a loyal volunteer each year when call came from the late and much beloved Nancy Malmgren for the Clean Water Act birthday celebration and citizen water quality monitoring. Bless him and his loving family always!

karen kenyon & Ralph Wirfs
astoria, OR
Mar 15, 2017

Derek was a good and gentle and valuable man. All who knew him are fortunate; he will be missed always.

Kate Stenberg
Issaquah, WA
Mar 15, 2017

My condolences on your loss. I worked for Derek at King County, but what I'll always remember is the enthusiasm he and his wife had for finding the material for my wedding dress. They had a trip planned to Thailand about the time I was planning the dress and they cheerfully took some samples with them. They came back with 10m of beautiful Thai silk in just the right shade that I used to make the dress.

Erin Maher
Seattle, WA
Mar 15, 2017

I so adored this man and am grateful for this period in my life when I got to know him. I will miss him much.

Sarah Luthens & Heather Gingerich
Seattle , WA
Mar 15, 2017

Derek was the most gracious and friendly host at so many gatherings at Laina and Ina's home. He always made us feel so welcome. And did he ever admire our advanced academic degrees!

As so noted in the beautifully written memorial, Derek was a absolutely devoted grandfather.

May Derek's incredible spirit live on in the hearts of all who knew and loved him!

Greg Wingard
Covington, WA
Mar 15, 2017

I met Derek through work on environmental issues. He approached it with determination and joy. Always there when some one had a question, or just wanted to bounce a strategy of him, getting the benefit of a wide range of experience.

I am grateful for the time I knew him.

Michelle Davis
Anchorage, AK
Mar 14, 2017

I did not know Mr. Poon, since I work in the Alaskan office. However, he gave a presentation on salmon, their range and losses over time. I still remember how good it was, how well researched and how broad his vision and understanding were. May peace be with his family. Best, Michelle

Judith Leckrone Lee
Seattle, WA
Mar 14, 2017

I also had the pleasure of knowing Derek when he worked at EPA. While we never worked together directly, it was always a pleasure to talk with him. His commitment to the environment and his love of his daughter and her family was always evident. Delighted to know that he found liberation and exhilaration to do the work that he loved the most after he retired.

Wendy Adams
Seattle , WA
Mar 14, 2017

I knew Derek when he worked at EPA. He was a good soul and he truly loved his family. Please accept my condolences on your loss.

John Lombard
Seattle, WA
Mar 13, 2017

I was saddened to learn the news of Derek's passing, but tenderly moved to read the beautiful tribute to him written by his daughter. Derek was one of my strongest supporters and advocates when my book, Saving Puget Sound, came out in 2006. He personally invested a lot of time, effort and passion to further my effort to get the word out, and to try to implement some of the ideas in the book through the Envision Skagit 2060 project. I will always be grateful to him, and am glad to see he was obviously so well-loved by his daughter. May you rest in peace, Derek my friend.

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