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Saturday, October 26, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rusty Wailes won 2 Olympic golds in rowing, won hearts as volunteer

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two-time Olympic gold-medal winner Rusty Wailes of Woodinville, a rower who never gave up, died dipping his oar.

He had a heart attack while rowing with friends on Lake Washington on Oct. 11. He was 66.

Longtime friend John Sayre of Anacortes, who rowed with Mr. Wailes in a lovely lake in the foothills outside Rome in the 1960 Olympics, recalled the four-oared, shell-without-coxswain event.

With 500 meters to go, they were far behind the Russians in first place. The thinking was that all they had to do was hang on for the silver. They cursed and decided that was unacceptable.

"Winning the silver is like taking an aspirin. ... We didn't come all this way to win a silver," he recalled.

It was enough to kick the squad into hyperdrive, which is pretty much "the way Rusty approached life," Sayre said.

People like him are all too rare today, added Sayre, describing him as a "genuinely good-hearted man who lived certain principles that most don't. ... It's hard to talk about without sounding mushy."

Mr. Wailes was born in Seattle in 1936. Later that year the family moved to Edmonds, where he grew up, attended high school and met the woman he would marry, Lenore "Lynne" Wailes.

Though his father and older brother attended and rowed for the University of Washington, Mr. Wailes yearned to go east. He won an academic scholarship to attend Yale University, where he studied engineering, his wife recalled.

"He didn't get into a shell or touch an oar until he joined the crew at Yale," she said. "And of course, he loved it," just as his father and brother had before him.

He went with seven other students to row for the United States in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and they won the gold medal in an eight-oared race.

Returning to Yale, he continued his collegiate rowing career and was elected captain of the crew in his senior year.

Rowing buddy Ted McCagg of Kirkland, who attended Harvard University and got to know Mr. Wailes by competing against him, described his friend as "a very religious man, in a quiet, nonaggressive way."

After graduating, Mr. Wailes' values impelled him to join Up With People, a worldwide, secular organization that used musical performances to promote peace and goodwill. That association allowed him to travel extensively and led to a job as dean of students at Mackinac College in Michigan.

Later still, he took a job with Paccar, where he worked as a manager in the company's Kenworth Truck division until his retirement in 1997.

Along the way, he fathered four children, became a church elder at Woodinville's Cottage Lake Presbyterian Church, volunteered to support the Northwest Chinook Recovery program and helped found the Lake Washington Rowing Club. Mr. Wailes became an Eagle Scout and was active in the Boy Scouts of America.

His brother, Ron Wailes of Duvall, described him as "generous with his time to a fault."

Several friends and relatives observed that he died rowing with friends during one of their regular weekend "oatmeal rows," basically an excuse to get together and have breakfast.

In addition to his wife and older brother, Mr. Wailes is survived by sons Richard Wailes of Woodinville and David Wailes of Edmonds; daughters Lynda Wailes of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Maria Reay of Seattle; and two grandchildren.

A celebration of Mr. Wailes' life is scheduled 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Bear Creek United Methodist Church, 16530 Avondale Road N.E., Woodinville.

The family suggests donations to one of his favorite endowments: Cottage Lake Presbyterian Church, Non-Permanent Endowment Fund, 18350 N.E. Woodinville-Duvall Place, Woodinville, WA 98072; the George Pocock Rowing Foundation, 3320 Fuhrman Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98102; and the Northwest Chinook Recovery, 15657 Yokeko Drive, Anacortes, WA.

Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com.

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