Steven “Steve” Timothy Gates, 69, of Hood River, Ore., died at home on Nov. 20, 2019, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends in his final weeks, and was grateful to be able to take in the love and support from his community. Steve was known for his exceptionally positive attitude and his way of seeing the good in everyone and every situation, a quality which inspired those around him.
Born Feb. 13, 1950, in Lynwood, Calif., Steve was raised by parents John Gates and Shirley (Jones) Gates, who valued hard work, education, and respect toward others. The family moved states several times during Steve’s childhood, and he grew up in several towns in California, Houston, Texas, and Anchorage, Alaska. Steve was a natural athlete who excelled at making friends, and he joined activities wherever he was — from baseball and the debate team in warmer climates, to learning to ski in Alaska. Steve’s mom, Shirley, was an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan and helped spark Steve’s love of baseball. Steve and his three sisters learned to surf at a young age (their father was a pioneer surfer in southern California), and this sport became a touchstone for Steve and a way of connecting with the natural world.
After studying at Washington and Lee, Southern Methodist University, and the University of California Santa Barbara (joking that he majored in surfing), Steve headed north to Alaska in search of adventure and also found his partner in life, Ginny Irving. Steve worked as a helicopter ski guide and later as a general contractor, and he and Ginny built cabins, skied, became pilots and flew their small plane, formed lifelong friendships, and had their two daughters, Erin and Jodie. Steve and a few brave friends picked up the sport of windsurfing while on a trip to Hawaii, and went on to become windsurfing pioneers in Turnagain Arm near Anchorage. This was not an environment for the faint of heart, though Steve was not one to be deterred when fun and friends were involved.
In 1987, the family moved to Hood River and Steve and his business partners started Big Winds, a windsurfing shop that remains a fixture today. Steve was a born leader, and he inspired those around him with his unique blend of humor, humility, kindness, and extremely hard work.
One of his life highlights was having the opportunity to mentor the countless local youth and seasonal staff that he employed, including his daughters. Erin met her husband, Rob, while working at Big Winds, and Jodie is now a co-owner of the shop. Steve also kept up with his former profession as a contractor: For a number of years, he built houses on the side to put both of his daughters through college.
In concert with his impact as a business owner, Steve poured his heart and soul into other aspects of Hood River community from the very beginning. He had a gift for diplomacy and a passion for helping people and worthy causes, and served as a member of the Hood River Planning Commission, Hood River Middle School Local Committee, Hood River Rotary, the school board, and even mayor of Hood River. He was a champion of the Hood River Waterfront Park development, with a desire to make the waterfront family-friendly and accessible to everyone, and also spread his love of activity through coaching and recreation. He helped start the Dynamos Soccer Club and coached his daughters and their friends on the Cooper Spur Race Team, and started the JET standup paddleboarding team for youth that continues to this day with great success. In recent years, he became active with the HR Outrigger Canoe Club, where he formed watertight friendships, and also established a love for mountain biking in Post Canyon throughout his cancer treatment.
Steve was passionate about every project he took on, and yet his driving motivation was always the relationships he formed along the way. Steve went out of his way to connect with those around him, never too busy for a smile and chat with friends, customers, colleagues and family alike. He was a devoted husband, dad, father-in-law, granddad and friend. With never-ending spirit, Steve lit up whenever his granddaughter, Avery, was near and she will cherish the magical bond she shared with her granddad.
During the past four-and-a-half years, Steve brought the same grace and determination to his cancer journey that he did to all of his endeavors. He grew close to his care team in both Portland and Hood River, and they were a bright light through his most challenging times.
Steve was preceded in death by his parents, John Purinton Gates and Mary Shirley (Jones) Gates. He is survived by his wife, Ginny; daughter Erin and her husband Rob; daughter Jodie and her husband Dave; granddaughter Avery; sisters Susan, Sharon, and Sandy; a loving extended family; his loyal Golden Retriever, Phoebe; and many treasured friends.
Steve, you will be remembered as the rarest of people: A hero of many, humble to the end, and with an unparalleled zest for life. We will love and miss you every day and we are all the better for having basked in your sunshine.
In the spirit of Steve’s giving nature and his values of education and community service, donations may be made to the Steve Gates Memorial Scholarship Fund. Please include Steve’s name in the check memo and send to HRCEF, 1011 Eugene St., Hood River, OR 97031 or online at https://hrcef.org/. This fund will assist high-achieving, community-minded graduates of Hood River Valley High School with college expenses.