Cord Heinrich Harms zum Spreckel, 85, passed away peacefully at home on Vashon Island in the late evening on Thursday, July 23, 2020 with his adored and adoring wife of 54 years, Jane, by his side. He spent his last weeks watching the trees, ducks, cows, and changing light of his favorite place in the world, wondering aloud each day, as he nearly always did, “Does it get any better than this?”
Since his first run-in with cancer at age 50, through his second and third at 70 and 80, Cord was willing to fight but not worried about losing. At each of those milestones he was clear that he couldn’t have asked for more out of life. At 84 his cancer returned; though he wasn’t up for another fight we know he left with no regrets and a winning record (3-1!).
Cord was born on June 18, 1935 to Frau Maren (Groth) and Col. Hans Heinrich Harms zum Spreckel of Hamburg, Germany. He was born in Rostock, on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, while his father was stationed there as a military engineer in the build up to World War II. He spent his post-war childhood in Austria with his mother and stepfather, Herbert Smolka, sailing and hiking with his younger brother and life-long close friend, Carsten.
After an apprenticeship in lithography, he set off for Switzerland to practice his craft and his rock-climbing, not necessarily in that order.
In 1963, Cord boarded a ship for the U.S. with a suitcase, a wool coat, a few words of English and the address of sponsors with a job for him in Walla Walla, Washington. After a year forming an enduring appreciation for ranches and waterfalls, he moved to Seattle and spent time skiing and climbing in the Cascades.
Cord met Jane Smith via friends and asked her on a first date “to the beach.” This turned out to be a Cessna flight to the Olympic Peninsula (with a few hair-raising wing dips to ‘get a great shot’ of an Elk on the mountain), hitchhiking to Second Beach trailhead, and hiking out to the Pacific for a picnic. This date set the tone for the 54 years of adventure that followed their 1966 wedding.
In 1970 Jane and Cord bought a farmhouse on Vashon, welcomed their son, Christian, and launched a color separations company called Color Control with a partner who became a lifelong friend. A few years later their daughter Trika was born and in 1975 they took their two and four-year old children on a three-month trip with stops in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, and Europe.
If you knew Cord, you were likely aware of his talent for photography, his love of wildlife, and his commitment to Color Control’s employees and clients. You might have gotten a tip on how to raise a bison, manage a fishing lodge in Alaska, plant a cedar, bottle-feed Scottish Highland calves, save drowning ducklings, or beat the tide when backpacking. You probably heard what he found amazing about Antarctica, Spitsbergen, Kotzebue or some other spot, preferably cold and remote, he and Jane had explored together.
In recent years you’ve found him—maybe even a few times a day—at the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie with Christian and dear friends, discussing politics or the outstanding qualities of his three Dutch grandsons over a cup of coffee.
If you were close to Cord, you received letters, hand-written in fountain pen, full of encouragement and questionable spelling. At some point he made you a Manhattan, beat you at ping pong, gave you great advice, or all three. You knew that Jane woke up every winter morning to find a roaring fire waiting, that he called his mother-in-law in Yakima regularly to chat, and that both of his kids really loved spending time with him.
Cord was considerate of others, confident in himself, and an optimist with a great ability to be content with where he was at any point in life. He described a snowy morning or the Chestnut tree blooms with the same enthusiasm shown in recounting when he and a friend climbed seven Swiss peaks in seven days or his experience sitting across from D.B. Cooper in 1971. Cord expected people to be interesting and experiences to be wonderful; he was rarely disappointed.
He is survived by Jane, Christian and Trika, his son-in-law Pieter and grandchildren Daan, Marein, and Abe; his in-laws Ann, Sue, and Marty; nephews Harold and Lars and families in Germany; nephew and nieces John, James, Jerry, Maggie, Melissa, Christopher, Doug and families in the United States, still other kids and former-kids who knew him as “Uncle Cord,” family or not, and last but not least, his dog Ally, who has not left his side since they met in 2016.
Cord is being remembered on August 9 in a small family ceremony and will be buried at Vashon Cemetery. In honor of Cord you could make a donation to the Washington Trails Association (wta.org), supporting the places that brought him so much joy in this country, or you could instead go for a walk in the woods, take a good look around, and ask yourself, “Does it get any better than this?”
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Cord Heinrich Harms Zum Spreckel, please visit our floral store.
Washington Trails Association
705 Second Ave Suite 300, Seattle WA 98104