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News / Clark County News

Vigil honors memory of John McKibbin

Prominent Vancouver man died with passenger in plane crash Wednesday

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 26, 2016, 6:29pm
6 Photos
John McKibbin's family and the Rev. Fitz Neal, left, hold up candles in remembrance of McKibbin's life at a vigil Saturday evening at Pearson Field in Vancouver.
John McKibbin's family and the Rev. Fitz Neal, left, hold up candles in remembrance of McKibbin's life at a vigil Saturday evening at Pearson Field in Vancouver. (Joseph Glode for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When John McKibbin came calling, you knew you needed to set aside some time and brain cells and get ready for something big. Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt said pad and paper was always a good idea.

“There was so much energy and so much information coming from him,” Boldt told a vigil in honor of McKibbin on Saturday evening.

Mark Matthias, the owner of Beaches restaurant and a frequent McKibbin collaborator, said every time McKibbin asked for a few minutes of his time, he knew he wouldn’t emerge for hours. He and McKibbin were supposed to have a meeting on Thursday, he said, and there was comedic negotiation by email as the two busy men settled upon exactly 9½ minutes of face time.

“I know that -minute meeting would have been the best hours of my week,” Matthias said.

Hundreds of people turned out at Pearson Field to honor McKibbin and show love and support for his widow, their daughters and the whole extended family. A gentle rain started to fall toward the end of the 45-minute vigil, but that didn’t stop folks from lighting candles and holding them aloft.

McKibbin, 69, and passenger Irene Mustain, 64, died Wednesday afternoon while on a mission to scatter the ashes of Mustain’s late husband, Terry Mustain, near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Terry Mustain was a Vietnam veteran and Air Force pilot who died in 2013. Wednesday would have been his 69th birthday; he and Irene had been married for 44 years.

McKibbin and Irene Mustain were flying in McKibbin’s North American AT-6A when it went down on the river near Astoria, Ore.

The AT-6A was built in 1941 and was designed to train military pilots during World War II. It had been fully restored by McKibbin and his friend and fellow pilot George Welsh, and was frequently on display at Pearson. McKibbin was an experienced private pilot. The weather for flying on Wednesday was good, and the reason for the crash is still being investigated.


McKibbin was a popular person with a long résumé in public service in Southwest Washington. He taught contemporary world problems at Columbia River High School and was active in Democratic politics before winning a 49th Legislative District seat in 1974. After serving two terms in the House, he was elected county commissioner in 1978, receiving nearly 71 percent of the vote. He left elected office in 1990 to work in real estate and development, and also served in numerous volunteer and leadership capacities for local civic organizations, including the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Clark County, Identity Clark County and Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.

“He had an unfailingly, aggressively, relentlessly positive attitude about everything,” state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, told the crowd Saturday. And when McKibbin would say, “Kiddo, it’s time for a meeting,” or “Kiddo, we’ll get it done,” Rivers knew he meant business.

Kelly Love, a fellow former CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said McKibbin called her “kiddo,” too. They didn’t always agree, she said, but McKibbin’s “big personality was like a 1,000-watt spotlight.” For such a vital life force to disappear in the Columbia River really gives Love pause, she said.

“John was one of those special, rare people who could reach across divides and disagreements to bring people together,” said state Sen. Annette Cleveland, who knew McKibbin for decades, worked with him and campaigned for him. “As a trusted and highly respected leader, his desire to serve our community and state was limitless.”

John Wells, a good friend, laughed that he “spent a lot of timing sitting behind John in airplanes.” Their friendship grew after the McKibbins hosted a welcome-home party for Wells when he was returning from military service in the early 1970s. They didn’t know him, Wells said, but he was a friend of a friend. That was enough for them.

“He was an incredible individual,” Wells said. “We were supposed to meet again next Wednesday.”

Neighborhood activist Bridget Schwarz, longtime organizer of the Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association, said she admired the way McKibbin “always included people. He was committed to the grass roots, and I guess that’s what I was. I’m like, ‘I mattered to this guy?’ ”

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Ron Arp, a local businessman, said McKibbin was keenly interested in replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge and growing aviation opportunities and education at nearby Pearson Field. “He wanted people to be able to land here and live here,” Arp said.

In the time to come, Arp added, if McKibbin’s friends find themselves feeling “that nudge to get involved and make the community better — that’s probably John playing wing man.”

New world

McKibbin was married to Nancy McKibbin for more than 40 years.

“I am so uplifted today” by the crowd and its kind words about her late husband, Nancy said. Some of the amazing things they said about him were things she hadn’t known, she said.

What she does know: “He wasn’t ready to go,” she said. They had many plans for the future, she said.

The couple had two daughters and two grandchildren — including Charlotte, who turned 1 year old on Saturday. Nancy McKibbin introduced her to the crowd and said: “This is my new world.”