Thomas C. Stapleton

Thomas Chester Stapleton: Father, Businessman, WWII veteran, and deep-sea sailor  

Tom, passed away on January 5th, 2020 at the age of 100 in San Rafael, California. He was from the Greatest Generation and was born on November 22nd, 1919 in New York City to the late Thomas Chester Stapleton and Louise Vadala née MacPherson.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 74 years, Helene Edith Stapleton  née Timmsen, daughter, Alice, grandson, Scott Stapleton, and great grandson, Dominic Dodson.  He is survived by his children: Anne Ackerman, Louise Snowden, Virginia Stapleton, Jane Baker, Sara Noel, Tom Stapleton, Frank Stapleton, and George Stapleton; and 19 grandchildren, and 31 great grandchildren.

Tom was the only child of notable parents: his father was a prominent New York City architect and his mother was a concert pianist who taught at the Julliard Music Institute and performed at Carnegie Hall. His parents divorced when he was just three years old and his paternal grandmother, Alice Stapleton, raised him in Providence, R.I. until he was 15 years old. After his father remarried, Tom asked if he could live with him, his Dad’s reply was, ‘It’s not a good time right now son’. He felt rejected, alone and longed for a family. By age 16, his mother (now twice divorced) raised him and in 1935 they drove from Denver to Los Angeles—trying to make a new life in California. In 1937 at Glendale High School he met Helene. She also was a single child from a divorced home and she and Tom met and fell in love on a week-long high school chemistry field trip--- as they called it, ‘Good chemistry’. As valedictorian, she turned down a college scholarship to marry Tom after graduation in 1938. Tom began working at his uncle George’s leather and shoe finding business in Los Angeles. Three years later moved his family to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he worked at another uncle’s store (MacPherson Brothers) in San Francisco. In 1945 Tom was called to duty in World War II and left his wife e and five daughters to serve in the US Merchant Marine. After 4 months training in New York as a purser-pharmacist mate, he left Helene and their five daughters behind as he sailed on a cargo vessel, SS Wild Hunter, from Seattle to the Far East and return. For his service in the war, he was later awarded Veteran’s status. In 1951 he assumed the management of the San Francisco store after the untimely death of his uncle Kenneth MacPherson.  Tom grew the wholesale business with Japanese footwear imports and later expanded into distribution of art supplies.  

In the mid 1950’s Tom first bought a 16 foot sailboat, then a 22 foot in early 1960’s, then a 27 foot sloop, then in 1973 a 40 foot oceangoing ketch that he and Helene sailed across the Atlantic from Gibraltar. After taking delivery in 1978 on their newest yacht, a 48 foot ketch (Helene II), just the two of them sailed from Europe across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal to the Marquesas Islands. Then they continued to Hawaii, and on to Vancouver, BC. For their remarkable 12,750 mile sailing voyage as a couple, they were awarded the Cruising Club of American Perpetual trophy. 

They settled in the San Juan Islands of Washington State for ten years before moving back to California. Raising their nine children in a loving home was their greatest achievement and satisfaction of their lives.

There will be a memorial at Spangler Mortuaries Chapel, 799 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041 on January 24th from 2:30pm to 4:30pm and a burial and graveside blessing at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery at noon on January 25th.

Side entrance corner of Santa Cruz Ave and Sherman Ave.

Recommended for you