It was one of Donn Weaver’s most prominent former music students who announced his death from COVID-19 complications on May 11, at age 87.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, while expressing condolences that same day to local families who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus, specifically mentioned Mr. Weaver, a West Seattle legend.
A longtime teacher who led a number of regional school music programs, Mr. Weaver directed multiple ensembles, juggling them in his impossibly busy schedule. After retiring, he continued to support students as director of the West Seattle Big Band, whose performances raise money for public school music education.
“His versatility astounded me,” said his wife, Janice Weaver. “He did everything from play in marching bands down on the field to leading jazz bands, stage bands, choirs, orchestras, school bands. He did it all.”
“He was not the kind of dad who took me hunting and fishing,” says Doug Weaver, one of three children from Mr. Weaver’s first marriage to Shirley Leonard. “He was always busy with educating and with bands, which I was fine with.”
Father and son did, in fact, connect through music, when Doug, a drummer, found himself in school bands conducted by his dad. The younger Weaver has also been part of the West Seattle Big Band from its beginning in 1996, nearly all that time under the baton of Mr. Weaver until the latter left the organization in 2014.
Donn Lee Weaver was born to Chester and Ethel Weaver in Onalaska, Lewis County, on May 18, 1932. (He was named Donn — not short for Donald — for a local radio announcer.) His father played organ accompaniment for silent movies and vaudeville acts that came through Chehalis and Seattle. Donn Weaver developed an interest in playing trumpet as a boy; it remained his primary instrument for life.
Mr. Weaver graduated from Onalaska High School, then attended Centralia College. He received a music education degree from the University of Washington in 1954. He met his first wife while at the UW.
After an elementary school teaching job in Raymond, Pacific County, he joined the faculty at Vashon Island High School, then Evergreen High in White Center, and West Seattle High from 1966-78. When he started at West Seattle, there were just 11 students in the band. By the time he left, the program had grown to 80 members. With his customary modesty, Mr. Weaver, in conversations with colleagues, friends and family, minimized his own role in that explosion of interest, as well as his mentorship of many students who went on to successful careers in music.
Mr. Weaver moved on to another succession of high schools in Seattle: Franklin, Rainier Beach and finally Ingraham, from which he retired in 1997. Asked why the teacher changed schools so often, Doug Weaver said his father did not like workplace distractions, and whenever they became a problem, he would opt to start over somewhere else.
“He didn’t like school politics or school district politics,” said Doug. “He just wanted to teach.”
It was at Rainier Beach where Mr. Weaver met Janice Weaver.
“He was the new hire, the band guy, and I was the activities coordinator,” said Janice Weaver. “We married late. I was 49 and he was in his 50s. I was drawn to his honesty and sense of humor. He was a man of integrity.”
Mr. Weaver and his children were badly injured in a car accident in 1968. The trumpet player’s lip was permanently damaged, and he no longer played as well as he had before. He focused even more intensely on teaching and guiding numerous music groups.
Mr. Weaver has been particularly celebrated in West Seattle, not only as a game-changing music teacher and for his artistic shaping of the all-volunteer 18-member West Seattle Big Band, but also as a noteworthy figure in the tight-knit community. He was a recipient of the 2015 Orville Rummel Trophy for Outstanding Service to the Community.
For Mr. Weaver’s survivors, who also include two sisters, daughters Kristina Raupach and Diana Griffith, and a grandchild, it was his private qualities that made him an endearing man to respect.
“He was the wise, calm, steady one,” Janice Weaver said. “He had a thoughtful way of dealing with everything. He gave of himself unstintingly to causes he believed in. Groups that were struggling and needed a firm hand to get on track, he would always give of himself.”
“He was always happy, always had a smile,” said Doug Weaver. “It didn’t matter if you were the class clown.”