There was the day back in 1969, as a several-hundred-million-dollar acquisition was set to close, that C. Calvert "Cal" Knudsen was waiting in Kansas City on a wire transfer for $3 million that never came.

Share story

There was the day back in 1969, as a several-hundred-million-dollar acquisition was set to close, that C. Calvert “Cal” Knudsen was waiting in Kansas City on a wire transfer for $3 million that never came.

The closing required the $3 million — in cash — that day.

Back then, Mr. Knudsen, who died of cancer April 24 at age 85, was a senior vice president for corporate development for Weyerhaeuser, which was buying the Diercks forest-product company.

In a speech he gave in 1999, Mr. Knudsen remembered, “So I got a blank check, wrote and signed on our local bank in Tacoma for $3 million — all without any authority whatsoever — and closed the deal.”

Luckily for Mr. Knudsen, the wire transfer did arrive after the closing, and the check was never presented for cashing.

“My career has been a testament to the adage that it’s better to be lucky than smart,” Mr. Knudsen said.

Mr. Knudsen would end up a well-off man, but his upbringing included spending his high-school years with one set of aunts and uncles, while his sister, Joan Ameday, was sent to live with another set of aunts and uncles.

Their mother had died, and their dad, a salesman, was on the road frequently. It was only when Mr. Knudsen’s father remarried that the family was reunited.

“He was not a child of privilege,” said David Knudsen, of Paige, Texas, one of Mr. Knudsen’s four children.

Mr. Knudsen’s varied career included seven years as chairman and CEO of MacMillan Bloedel, the forest-products giant. He also had been a successful attorney with the Seattle firm of Bogle & Gates.

And Mr. Knudsen was a pioneer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine industry.

In 1971, he bought a 200-acre walnut orchard in the valley and started a premium vineyard. Later, he partnered in producing high-quality wines and was chairman of the Argyle Wine Company, based in Dundee, Ore.

Mr. Knudsen said his interest in wines began in 1954 when he and his wife, Julia Lee Knudsen, toured Europe. When she died in 1990, they had been married 40 years.

“I had never had a glass of wine … and I fell in love with it,” Mr. Knudsen explained in the speech that served as a biography. “I became a dedicated wine buff.”

He said that as he looked to buy an orchard, what at first appeared unlucky turned out be quite propitious.

Mr. Knudsen said he had signed an earnest-money agreement for what he believed would be a great site.

But then, Mr. Knudsen remembered, the broker told the seller that Mr. Knudsen was planning to start a vineyard.

“With that, the seller tore up the earnest money and fired the broker. Unknown to the broker, the seller belonged to a religious group in that area that forbade the use or production of any alcoholic beverage,” Mr. Knudsen said.

“It took a year to finally locate another site, and I actually got a better deal than before. Luck again!”

Mr. Knudsen was born on Oct. 3, 1923, in Tacoma.

In 1942, when he was 19, he enlisted in the Army while at the University of Washington and was sent to officer-training school. He was tossed out because of poor vision, Mr. Knudsen would remember, and he spent the next 3 ½ years of his military service on the mainland.

In 1950, Mr. Knudsen graduated from the University of Washington Law School, and then did postgraduate studies at Columbia Law School in New York City.

In 1969, Mr. Knudsen’s life took a detour to Washington, D.C., when he spent two months on Richard Nixon’s transition team after Nixon was elected president.

His children don’t have any particular details about those two months. Mr. Knudsen would say, “That was a fascinating two months and is a story all by itself … “

Mr. Knudsen was a board member of numerous companies and had been a trustee of the Seattle Art Museum.

He lived in Palm Springs, Calif., where he died at home.

He is survived by his companion, Sally Phinny, of Seattle and Palm Springs; his sister, Joan Ameday, of Bermuda Dunes, Calif., and Seattle; his daughter, Page Cowles; and sons David Knudsen, of Texas, and Calvert Knudsen, of Woodinville, and Colin Roderick of New York City; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service for Mr. Knudsen will be held at 3 p.m. May 12 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E., Seattle.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or