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Clark County philanthropist Ed Lynch dies at 94

Businessman, his late wife among region's biggest benefactors

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: May 10, 2015, 5:00pm

One of Southwest Washington’s biggest benefactors, Ed Lynch, died Sunday evening after a period of declining health. He was 94 years old.

“Vancouver has lost a great friend and supporter,” said Lynch’s friend Royce Pollard, former Vancouver mayor and, like Lynch, a former recipient of the community’s First Citizen award.

“Ed and (his late wife) Dollie were models of what a committed and caring citizen should be,” said Pat Jollota, local historian and former Vancouver city councilwoman. “It was not just the monetary donations that they gave, it was the gift of themselves, of their knowledge, of their caring hearts.”

“He’s a cornerstone for the community,” said Jim Mains, Lynch’s friend, next-door neighbor and personal assistant. The Lynches supported many community causes over the years, including the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, Fort Vancouver National Trust, Identity Clark County and Columbia Springs Foundation, among other others.

The Lynches were part of a generation of local residents who made fortunes in business, then spent their retirement spending their money for the betterment of the community. Others in that group included banker E.W. “Ed” Firstenburg, restaurateur George Propstra and barge line owner Ray Hickey, as well as Lynch’s management team at Kiewit Pacific Co.

“He was a good example for all of us,” said Lynch’s son, Michael Lynch. “He hopes his life was an example for people to help others as they were able.

“He doesn’t want a building named after him. He doesn’t want his name on the side of something. He wants his actions remembered, and people to make their home a better place.

Even in his last days, he would remind his nurses that his name was Ed.

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“Mr. Lynch was my father,” he would say.

Natural-born engineer

Edward Lynch was born Nov. 14, 1920, in Los Angeles, and as a young man was drawn to engineering and Southern California’s burgeoning aircraft industry. The early years of World War II found Lynch working as a foreman on the assembly line for Lockheed’s P-38 fighter, even though he hadn’t had a chance to complete his college degree. Later, he enlisted in the Navy, and after World War II completed his civil engineering degree at Stanford University.

By then, he and Dollie had married. Ed liked to tell people they had met in bed; the punch line irked Dollie. The longer version of the story was that during the war, Dollie had agreed to spend the night with a girlfriend, who happened to be Ed’s sister. When he came home unexpectedly from a night shift, the girls were in his bed. He may have lost a night’s sleep, but he gained a lifetime partner. The Lynches were married for 62 years.

As an engineer, Ed’s career took the couple all over. But when they moved to Vancouver in 1957, they found a home. In 1985, Lynch retired as president of Kiewit Pacific, a Vancouver-based subsidiary of one of the world’s largest construction contractors.

Once retired, he and Dollie launched a second career of philanthropy.

Rick Melching, former Evergreen school superintendent and former president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, once said that the Lynches not only gave money, but also gave their time. Ed Lynch was the kind of person who would come early to set up folding chairs before an event; Dollie used to help out frequently in the kitchen at First United Methodist Church.

“Both my mother and father were extremely proud to call Vancouver home,” said Michael Lynch.

Michael Lynch said that although he has a rough idea of how much money the Lynches gave away during their lifetimes, he didn’t want to disclose it, because they wouldn’t want to be remembered that way. But there were several seven-figure gifts over the years, including money for a therapy garden at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center that bears Dollie Lynch’s name.

Mains said Lynch’s proudest philanthropic accomplishment was assisting in the Fort Vancouver National Trust’s purchase of The Academy, one of Washington’s oldest buildings. Plans are now being made to preserve and renovate the venerable structure, located at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd., across from the Vancouver Community Library, for generations of future use.

In 2012, Lynch gave the first $2 million to kick off the Academy preservation project.

“Over the years, I have been privileged to support many important efforts in our community. However, in my view, there is no more important undertaking than the acquisition and preservation of the Academy,” Lynch said in a National Trust news release announcing his gift.

The brick structure, once known as Providence Academy, was built in 1873 by Mother Joseph, 17 years after a small group of the Sisters of Providence arrived in Vancouver from Montreal, Canada. It served as a school until 1966. Since then, it has largely been used as office and business space; its chapel is a popular wedding venue.

Awards and honors

Ed and Dollie Lynch were honored many times over the years. In 2011, Ed Lynch was honored with the Vollum Award for Lifetime Philanthropic Achievement, the top such award in the Portland-Vancouver area. In 1992, the Lynches were honored as Clark County’s First Citizens by the Community Foundation, and in 2006 were honored as Washington Generals, a statewide honor.

Survivors include four children: Louanna Eggert of Portland, Susan Lynch of Vail, Colo., Carolyn Taylor of Portland, Michael Lynch of Vancouver, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Mains said Sunday evening that a funeral will be planned and announced later.

Rob Oster of The Columbian contributed to this report.