He was handsome, well-dressed and dapper, the kind of man who could captivate a room if he tried. But Paul Bliss was a milder kind of man...

Share story

He was handsome, well-dressed and dapper, the kind of man who could captivate a room if he tried.

But Paul Bliss was a milder kind of man. He was the one who remembered your name at church. The one who asked after your family. The one who could pick up a conversation you started weeks ago, just because he was paying attention.

“In other words, he was a good man,” said J. Murray Marshall, a friend and former pastor at Seattle First Presbyterian Church.

Paul S. Bliss, a high-ranking administrator at Swedish Medical Center and Seattle General Hospital, spent his retirement on the ground level, as a volunteer in the gardens at Woodland Park Zoo and the halls of the University of Washington Medical Center. He had logged more than 5,000 volunteer hours at the UW by the time he fell ill with an infection last month.

After a short illness, Mr. Bliss died Oct. 10. He was 87.

Mr. Bliss, an only child born in Portland, graduated from Northwestern School of Commerce and studied two years at Multnomah College.

He started out as an accountant at a shipbuilding business in Oregon, then moved into a job as business manager at Vancouver Memorial Hospital in Washington state.

He became the hospital’s administrator and stayed there until 1971, when he became the administrator of Seattle General Hospital.

Mr. Bliss threw himself into his work, serving as president of the Washington State Hospital Association early in his career.

Those who knew him best said Mr. Bliss did not talk much about why he worked in the hospital world. But he gave some insight in a 1964 newspaper article, describing the mysterious way hospitals worked in the past, saying they did not give enough information to patients or families.

“That era is over,” he is quoted as saying. “Our obligation is to the community.”

After a few years as vice president of provider affairs at Blue Cross of Washington/Alaska, Mr. Bliss returned as administrator at Seattle General Hospital, where he helped with the 1980 merger of Seattle General Hospital into Swedish Medical Center. He later served as associate executive director at Swedish, then became the administrator at Kenney Presbyterian Retirement Community in West Seattle.

Mr. Bliss spent retirement by the side of his second wife, Florence, whom he met at Seattle First Presbyterian Church and married in 1981. His first wife died in 1980.

Mr. Bliss was an active member of the church, a deacon, an elder, at one point holding the post of clerk of session, the church’s governing body.

But it was the dashing figure he cut as an usher that attracted Florence Bliss.

For his part, Mr. Bliss was intrigued by a profile of her in the church’s newsletter that said she owned more than 200 cookbooks. Their first date was a trip to a nearby retirement home, where Mr. Bliss was giving potted plants to elderly women for Christmas.

Serious-minded and sincere — that was how Florence Bliss first saw her future husband. She introduced the man of suits to jeans. She startled him at times with her straightforward way of talking.

Take, for instance, the dinner when Mr. Bliss recited all the qualities he looked for in a woman.

“I sat there listening to him, and then I said: How would you like it if I submit my résumé?” Florence Bliss recalled.

“I think it kind of shocked him.”

In late-life love, Mr. Bliss refused to call his wife by her given name. She was “Sweetheart” to him, even when he was yelling across a store, trying to grab her attention.

As retirees, they hiked and traveled and weeded in their garden, which includes more than 200 species of plants. They volunteered for a decade as gardeners for the Woodland Park Zoo, and later became go-fers at the UW Medical Center.

That was a job Mr. Bliss took on with glee, his wife said, stopping to chat with every medical student, nurse and doctor in the place.

For all the work he did there, last year Mr. Bliss received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, together with a personal, congratulatory letter signed by President Bush.

A memorial for Mr. Bliss will be 2:30 p.m. Friday at Seattle First Presbyterian Church, 1013 Eighth Ave.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com