Michael Dederer was as Pacific Northwest as they come, a man raised on the water and in the mountains of the region, who delved into its entrepreneurial spirit as one of the founders of the Rockey Group public-relations firm and of the Crystal Mountain ski resort.
Dederer, whom his son, Dave, described as “tall, dark, handsome and interested in you,” passed away March 7 at Kindred Healthcare in Seattle from complications resulting from a fall. He was 88.
“He had this intense love of the mountains, of books, of photography and his family,” said his daughter, the writer and author Claire Dederer, of Bainbridge Island. “The things you love and care about make you who you are.”
Dederer was born at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on April 30, 1932, to Michael and Clare Dederer. His father was the president of the Seattle Fur Exchange, the international fur auction house. His mother died of leukemia, and his father moved himself and his two sons in with his wife’s two sisters and her mother on Queen Anne Hill. (“It took those three women to take the place of his mother,” Claire Dederer said).
He attended Coe Elementary and Queen Anne High School, then the University of Washington, where he studied journalism, was the sports editor of The Daily and managed the varsity baseball team.
During service in the U.S. Army, Dederer joined the transportation corps as an officer and at one point was stationed in Germany, where, at 22, he was commanding officer of trains between East and West Berlin. It left him with a love of German culture and helped develop what his children both described as “laconic” grace under pressure.
Once back in the States, Dederer became a ski bum, living out of his car and bartering for lodging and lift tickets for the slopes of Aspen and Sun Valley.
Returning home to Seattle, he began what would be a long career in public relations, working as an account executive for Kraft, Smith. After working PR for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, he joined Jay Rockey to found The Rockey Company, which secured accounts with Boeing, Burlington Northern, Alyeska Pipeline and Sealaska, the Alaska Native Corporation, a relationship he treasured.
He married Donna Jordan in 1962 and had two children: Dave, now in business development at Amazon.com and a founding member of the Nineties rock trio The Presidents of the United States of America; and Claire, a writer, reviewer, teacher and author of two books, “Poser” and “Love and Trouble.” (The couple later divorced).
Claire Dederer remembered being roused from sleep on her father’s Lake Union houseboat by the sound of his electric razor, and arriving at Crystal Mountain just as the chairlifts started moving.
Dederer was one of a group of investors to found the resort in 1962, when it opened with two double chair lifts. He provided pro bono PR and marketing support, and helped found and run the resort’s ski school. He stayed involved until the end of his life.
Dederer was a founding member of the Pike Place Market Foundation, and served on the boards of Cornish College and The Bush School, but quietly.
“He didn’t need the attention,” Dave Dederer said. “If he had an all-wheel-drive car with snow tires on it and whatever ski gear he needed, he was happy.”
Dederer was also an avid backpacker and fly fisherman. Claire Dederer remembered her father taking her to the playfield at Montlake Park to teach her to cast. When she was ready, they headed to the north fork of the Stillaguamish River.
In the days after their father’s death, the siblings sorted through his book-lined houseboat. “Everything from Thomas Mann to the history of Formula One,” Dave Dederer said of his father’s library. “I could retire today and lay in bed reading for the next 10 years.”
They also found loose-leaf binders filled with logs detailing the lengths and highlights of Dederer’s hikes in the Cascades. (“You can see the inside of his brain, on display,” Claire Dederer said. “It’s almost like a little museum.”)
Dave also found a bamboo fly-fishing rod that was once his grandfather’s, and his father’s.
“That is the thing that I will want to hold close,” he said. “Because it connects back generationally and it is a token of how we spent time doing things outside. It’s a beautiful object, and my father loved well-designed things.”
Dave Dederer will miss talking with his father about a wide range of subjects and always coming away enriched: “I loved that back and forth in having someone to correspond with,” he said, “who took care with what they were saying and how they were saying it.”
Claire Dederer will miss the sourdough pancakes her father made from starter he got from a friend in Alaska and nurtured for years. She will miss how he showed up for everything: her book readings, her children’s school activities. He read what they read to keep connected to their lives: her son’s Marxist literature, for example.
Dederer always believed people should do what they liked — as long as they did it well, his children said.
“He had this sovereign quality, and just did what he wanted all the time,” Claire Dederer said. “But he gave you the same permission. And to have that sense of permission always made us feel like it was going to be OK, which allowed us to become artists.”
In that sense, she said, Dederer was “this granite monolith, with water flowing over it. That piece of granite that I didn’t know was there, so that I could move.”
In addition to his children, Dederer is survived by his brother, Gary; and grandchildren Oona Dederer, Lolo Dederer, Lucy Barcott and Willie Barcott.
A memorial service will be held this summer, somewhere on Lake Union.