By Jennifer Howell Ross
Elbert Howell “Chip” Ross Jr. was born March 22, 1947, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He passed away peacefully in his home of 34 years in Spokane, Washington, on July 17, 2018, with his beloved wife and three daughters at his bedside.
Chip was born to the Reverend Elbert Howell Ross and Ruth Daddow Ross Rutman. Elbert Sr. was the pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, and Ruth was a teacher. Because Chip’s father passed away when he was two years old, Chip was raised by his devoted mother with assistance from both sets of grandparents. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth. His love of nature ran in the family — it was nurtured by both scouting mentors and his mother. In his early teen years, his mother married his stepfather, Russell Rutman; his sister, Susan “Sue” Rutman Ciccone, was born when Chip was 15. Sue is herself an accomplished fine artist specializing in stunning paintings of natural settings.
Chip graduated from Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1965, and from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Lafayette. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Temple University in Philadelphia. He was known for his verbal gifts and love of words, impressing his family throughout his life with his rich vocabulary and expressive mannerisms. To the very end he regularly and nonchalantly completed crossword puzzles, remarkably without the assistance of reference materials. He won Lafayette’s MacKnight Black Prize in Poetry and Literature in 1969. He downplayed his gifts, but his talents with words were treasured by those who knew him — whether the words were obscure, intellectual, and complex, or gritty, raw, and — it must be said — irreverent. He once remarked “I’m halfway between Dostoyevsky and Homer Simpson, my friends.” And he was. His love of words and literature translated to a love of reading to his children and grandchildren — memories of him reading Anne of Green Gables and Little Women to his daughters, and his occasional propensity to be moved to misty eyes by the stories, will always be treasured.
He followed in his mother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher, first in inner-city Philadelphia and later in rural Montana in a one-room schoolhouse.
He met his wife, Stephanie LaVerde Ross, a nurse, in the early 1970s. They were married on December 29, 1973, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and remained married until his death 44½ years later. His life was blessed with the addition of Stephanie’s warm, close, and extensive Italian Catholic family. He remembered not only his blood relatives but his wife’s relatives in nighttime prayers with his daughters and in speeches at various family events. Upon the death of her husband in 2013, his mother-in-law, Filomena, moved to Spokane to live with Chip and Stephanie. He and Fil enjoyed a warm and close relationship in their final days, just being together sharing a laugh or a bowl of ice cream in Chip and Stephanie’s living room.
A fan of the freedom and access to nature the west provided — and inspired by trips out west as a young person, and Western TV shows and movies — he and Stephanie moved to the Rocky Mountains of Montana for him to take the teaching job in 1977. His children, Jennifer, Emily, and Ashley, were born in 1977, 1978, and 1986, respectively. The loving bond between daughters and father was strong and persisted throughout his life. His pride in what he referred to as his “beautiful daughters” was palpable. The same holds true for his grandchildren, the first of whom, Daniel, was remarkably born on Chip’s birthday. So much more could be said about the bond between father and daughters, grandfather and grandkids, with beautiful memories too numerous to be brought forth in a short document; the family vows to keep these stories alive forever and welcomes anyone to inquire.
In his early 30s he was still trying to find the path that fit him best. He often said “I never knew what I wanted to do,” and “I wasn’t meant to be a teacher,” but his family knew he touched the lives of many with his compassion and gentle ways during his teaching years. Chip did decide to leave teaching, moving their young family to Lewiston, Idaho, in 1980, and then to Spokane in 1984. He dabbled for a short time in the types of retail he was interested in — sporting goods and hardware (he remarked “Jesus was a carpenter”). He met a mentor in Lewiston in the early 1980s who led him on an unexpected path: Chip joined the lighting industry to sell energy-saving lighting products, and he relished the independence, drives through the stunning countryside, and interaction with salt-of-the-earth customers in rural Idaho and Eastern Washington this unlikely career afforded. He proudly supported his family as a salesman, first working for a company and later venturing out to create his own lighting business. He was named Western Region salesman of the year in 1985, and won various vacations for the family through meeting sales goals. The metaphor of the family “living off his light” was sometimes mentioned. Stephanie once made him a light bulb cake for his birthday. Until the end, he wanted to go downstairs to his home office to conduct business. All of his customer billing and written correspondence was conducted in longhand. He was a self-described Luddite when it came to technology, and only in 2016 after a health crisis left his ability to work compromised did he learn to tool around a bit on the iPad.
When speaking of Chip, his unique sense of humor must be mentioned. He was distinctively hilarious, and possessed a unique talent for blending refined, flowery vocabulary with concise and often irreverent slang. It is said with obituaries and eulogies that one should “show rather than tell,” but truly some of his humor was at the edge of what is shareable in such forums; this is what was so funny about it — just courting the edge of propriety to bring out the humor in life. He brought the house down at weddings with lengthy, handwritten speeches which were infused with irreverent humor and deep love; a long speech is often not appreciated, but not so with his. They were amazing. His speech at Jenni’s wedding started with “I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony — I don’t know where to start,” but also included his own earnest, misty-eyed, and joyous expression that this was “quite an emotional day for him,” as well as heartfelt and emotional tributes to both his mother and mother-in-law. He and Stephanie made it through thick and thin with laughter; they were the ultimate real-life comedy duo.
Kindness, gentleness, and compassion were a large part of who he was; he was a complex, even enigmatic man, but these qualities were ever-present. Raised primarily by his mother, he was both a man’s man — he deeply appreciated the company of his men’s group from church, loved the show Family Guy, and instructed us all to never feed him anything organic because he felt like he was “eating gold” — but also a true empath who regularly teared up when his heart was touched by everything from a moving commercial to his children’s or grandchildren’s successes.
He was a member of Manito Presbyterian Church in Spokane for over 30 years. His connection to his father through his Presbyterian faith was extremely important to him. He had few wishes for what would occur after his passing — as he would rather focus until the very end on the hope that he would get better — but he consistently expressed a desire for his remains to be with his father’s. This wish will be honored.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Ruth, and father, Elbert Sr.; his stepfather, Russell; his beloved Aunt Margaret; and his mother-in-law, Filomena, and stepfather-in-law, Vincent. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Stephanie LaVerde Ross; his three daughters, Jennifer Howell Ross (Benjamin Lukoff), Emily Howell Ross, and Ashley Howell Ross Kautzman (Ian); his sister, Susan Ciccone (Judd); his nephew, Sam, and niece, Nickki; and his grandchildren, Daniel, Isaac, Madeleine, Isabel, Ivy, and Cooper. The family expects two new grandsons later this year.
He will be profoundly missed by all who knew him. God bless the irrepressible, irreplaceable Chip Ross.
Memorial services will take place Saturday, August 11, 2018, at 3 p.m. at Manito Presbyterian Church in Spokane.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the American Lung Association. The family applauds the organization’s efforts to prevent and curb the issue of teen smoking — may the next generation benefit from their work to prevent the public health tragedy of smoking-related illness.