In a private family ceremony held on July 4, 2017, James A. “Jim” Gibbs, noted maritime historian, author, and lighthouse keeper, was honored by the placement of a Coast Guard memorial marker at his gravesite in Yachats, Oregon.
Gibb’s son-in-law, Ray Pedrick, recounted the ceremony in these words: “At 12:00 noon Pacific time, my wife Deb (daughter of Jim Gibbs), myself, along with three bulldogs and two cats (Jim was a lover of all God’s creatures) placed a Coast Guard memorial marker at Jim Gibbs and his wife Cherie’s final resting place. Jim and Cherie’s ashes are interred in a small garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Oregon’s central coast in front of the ‘Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse,’ their home and an official aid to navigation built in 1976.
“Debra Baldwin wrote a beautiful tribute to Jim, which was read along with The Lighthouse Keepers Prayer at the placing of the marker, followed by this veteran’s salute. Jim Gibbs and his wife, Cherie, were not just family, but neighbors and best friends whose memories are with us daily.
“As you all know, lighthouses do not exist, survive and operate if not for the heart, work [sic] and commitment of the keeper. Jim was a keeper of the light, and in his modest way he would turn it back on all who understand the gift of our lighthouses, and simply say do what you can to keep your light shining. So, continue to be ‘Keepers of the Light,’ and know that this wonderful act and all it implies would put that everlasting smile on Jim’s face.”
Jim Gibbs truly was a keeper of the light, both literally and figuratively. He served as an assistant keeper at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse from 1945-1946. His autobiographical book, Tillamook Light, is still considered the greatest inside view of life on the Rock that anyone has ever penned. After leaving the Coast Guard, Gibbs was one of the founders and served as president of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. He then became the editor of Marine Digest magazine until 1972.
In the years that followed, Gibbs’ research into Pacific Coast lighthouses produced several acclaimed books including Lighthouses of the Pacific, Sentinels of Solitude: West Coast Lighthouses, Twilight on the Lighthouses, Sentinels of the North Pacific: The Story of Pacific Coast Lighthouses and Lightships, and Oregon’s Seacoast Lighthouses.
When these books were written, many lighthouses were being automated or decommissioned, and preservation of either artifacts or history was virtually unknown. Gibbs actually was able to physically rescue many lenses, lighthouse service articles, and even the lantern from Smith Island Lighthouse that he installed atop the tower of the Skunk Bay Lighthouse that he constructed near Hansville, Washington in the 1960s.
What he did for saving the physical artifacts associated with local lighthouses, he also did for the archiving of the oral and written histories of those sentinels. Gibbs was able to interview former keepers and compile accounts of life at the lights that surely would have been lost during that era. Anyone who does research today on Pacific Coast lights uses Gibbs’ writings to build upon, and all his works are considered staples of any maritime or lighthouse library. Without his work, vital connections would not be made or gaps filled that are necessary to tell the complete stories of many lighthouses and the keepers who lived in them in that region.
In the mid-1970s, Jim Gibbs and his family moved to the Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse which he built on Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats, Oregon. The lighthouse is a replica of the Fiddle Reef Lighthouse which stood in British Columbia from 1898 to 1978. The lighthouse optic, a 300mm acrylic beacon that he salvaged from Solander Island Light in British Columbia, was classified as an official private aid to navigation in 1976. But since his death in 2010, it has been deactivated, though still in place and operational.
Jim Gibbs has left a wonderful legacy for future generations, both as an official lighthouse keeper and as a keeper of history. It is fitting that the marker ceremony was held on the yearly anniversary of our Nation’s Independence to celebrate our history and pride in our Nation’s past and future freedoms, a past in which lighthouses have played a significant role over the centuries, and a future in which they will provide benefit for all who encounter them.
As Lighthouse Digest editor, Timothy Harrison, wrote at the time of Jim Gibbs’ passing in 2010, “Thank you, Jim, for the path you paved for those who followed. You may be gone, but your legacy will live on forever.” And, in Gibbs own words that he composed for Ozzie Allik’s famous last Tillamook Rock log entry in bidding the lighthouse farewell, we can now also say of him, “The service you have rendered is worthy of the highest respect.”
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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