Food Co-op, community mourn loss of René Tanner

Posted 11/6/19

In the wake of his Oct. 26 passing at the age of 60, Food Co-op volunteer René Tanner’s coworkers and loved ones remember him as a constructive consensus-seeker with a thirst for knowledge and an unflagging belief that people and processes could always be made better.

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Food Co-op, community mourn loss of René Tanner


In the wake of his Oct. 26 passing at the age of 60, Food Co-op volunteer René Tanner’s coworkers and loved ones remember him as a constructive consensus-seeker with a thirst for knowledge and an unflagging belief that people and processes could always be made better.

Although Tanner was known for his longtime service at the Food Co-op, he also put in a stretch as a caretaker of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and held down jobs ranging from beekeeper and travel agent to hatchery algae technician and disaster relief communication coordinator, the latter in Switzerland, with stints along the way teaching piano to neighborhood kids, teaching conversational Spanish at the Catholic Church, starting the group Amigos de la Cultura and helping start the Water Watchers group.

Gale Wallis, one of Tanner’s friends for several years, elaborated on his facility for multiple languages — English, Spanish, Swiss-German, High German, French and just enough Italian to “fake it” — and his love of travel, noting that he was born to Swiss parents in El Salvador, and his family traveled from Central America to California in a VW bus when war broke out.

After his parents were sent back to Switzerland, Tanner returned to America in his 20s, and recently passed the American citizenship test with flying colors, but he put off taking the oath because he wanted a celebration to mark the occasion.

“He said he would come back another day,” Wallis said. “He never made it.”

“He always wanted to get his pilot’s license, but he never did,” said Lisa Madelle Bottomley, Tanner’s second wife, his first being Ellen Tart. “He did so many things, and he wanted to do so many more. He was curious and interested in anything and everything. He was fascinated with the worlds of nature and mechanics. He wanted to know how things worked, and how they could work better.”

Tanner met Bottomley in Quilcene in 1989, during one of her family’s extended parties, and while she tried to introduce him to two young Swiss women in attendance, he decided that she was more interesting, and they wound up talking non-stop for three hours.

“My mom was suspicious of him at first,” Bottomley said. “She couldn’t believe that anyone could be that optimistic and positive all the time. She was sure it had to be a facade, but it turned out he really was that helpful and sincere.”

Tanner and Bottomley married on the beach at Chetzemoka Park, after already spending 10 years as a couple, but Bottomley laughed as she acknowledged that she was “wife number two” compared to his devotion to the Food Co-op, which was “wife number one.”

“He loved his work there, and threw himself into it,” Bottomley said. “What were they going to do? Say, ‘Oh, no, don’t give us these wonderful processes that will help us work better.’”

Although his starting title was “custodian,” Wallis credited Tanner with improving the Food Co-op’s systems to the point that he eventually received “the more appropriate title” of facilities manager.

“The Food Co-op was at the heart of René’s place in the world,” Wallis said. “The values of the Co-op were his values; community and caring and living consciously on the planet.”

Wallis pointed out that Tanner and his immediate supervisor at the Food Co-op, Scott Marble, won the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill Award for reducing greenhouse emissions, thanks to the work they’d done to reduce leakage from the equipment the Co-op used for food storage.

Tanner likewise contributed to the recent updating of the Values Statement of the Food Co-op as an organization, as he insisted on the addition of “Love” as a value, as part of the statement, “We treat others with clarity and grace.”

“That’s how René lived his life, with the core value of love,” Wallis said. “If you had to pick one word for who René was, ‘grace’ would also be a great choice.”

Wallis and Bottomley agreed that Tanner was “a win-win person,” although Bottomley suggested he was more of a “win-win-win person.”

“He arrived at solutions with input from all sides,” Bottomley said. “He was a great peacemaker and communicator, whose view of facilities was the same as his view of people. He always believed social systems and relationships could function better.”

Bottomley described her relationship with Tanner as “a creative alliance,” in which she supplied Tanner with ideas, and he brought them to life, but also in which he shared his more spiritual side with her, and they both shared their dreams on a regular basis.

The flip side of what Wallis called Tanner’s “meticulous engineer’s mind” was that he encouraged and expected others to keep pace with him, and she laughed as she recalled one of the few times she saw him come close to losing his temper, when he tried to operate a malfunctioning foreign currency exchange machine.

“He never got mad. Ever,” Wallis said. “But watching him start to lose it, as Lisa and I jabbered at him to leave the machine alone, was fascinating. His clenched jaw and laser focus on the computer screen spoke volumes. He plowed ahead and put in 10 euro, wanting to change it to Swiss francs. He got back 9 euro.”

Kathy Stevenson met Tanner through his work for the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and while his job title there was also “custodian,” she cited his presence as adding to “the culture of the place.”

“René was a community man through and through,” Stevenson said. “His cheerful and friendly nature always helped me start the week off right. He was curious about the Fellowship, always supportive, and thoughtful about how it fit into the larger community.”

Stevenson even went so far as to describe Tanner’s custodial service as “a ministry.”

Wallis lamented that Tanner left “way too young,” but speculated that it might well have been inevitable, given that his mother also died of a heart attack at the same age.

Bottomley hopes Tanner’s death inspires others to pause, reflect, be kind to themselves and take care of others.


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