Douglas County has lost a powerful voice of justice and compassion. Bill Lasswell served Douglas County as the Circuit Court Judge for 21 years; he died on Friday, June 16th, 2017. He was 82 years old.
A Yoncalla native, Bill graduated from Willamette University, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society and played on the golf team. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1962, and joined a private practice in Roseburg. Seven years later, he was elected to the position of District Attorney. In 1988, he began his tenure as Oregon Circuit Court Judge, where he served admirably until his retirement in 2009. He additionally represented the statewide legal community as the President of the District Attorneys’ Association and as a member of the Board of Bar Examiners. Following his retirement, he frequently returned to the courtroom as a visiting judge throughout the state. He developed a reputation for kindness and fairness on the bench, and many reported that he created a welcoming environment in the courtroom.
He was an Air Force veteran who served in the intelligence community while stationed at Etain Air Force Base in France. Here he developed a fondness for Paris, and was delighted to find any excuse to return—from sharing his adoration of the city with his children, to picking up a jar of his favorite mustard or surprising his wife with a spontaneous Valentine's Day trip. Some of his travels were more altruistic in their design; he routinely visited Guatemala and Mexico during the seventies and eighties to assist refugees. Wherever he went, he used his language skills to connect with locals and—even from single encounters—he was able to forge lifelong, international friendships.
Bill was an accomplished hiker, devoting much of his life to the trails around the Pacific Northwest that he knew so well. The Wallowas, Three Sisters, Mt. Hood, Rogue River and especially the North Umpqua region provided favorite escapes. He frequently put 40 miles on a trail in a single day, and once hiked 80 miles in under 22 hours!
Bill was a loyal member of the Yoncalla and Roseburg Methodist churches, and it should be noted that he played the piano beautifully, and often, both at church events and at home.
Important influences in Bill’s childhood included his parents, Avery and Marione Lasswell, and grandparents, Jess and Jennie Lasswell and Will and Minnie Ladd. His childhood neighbors from Yoncalla—Gus and Hazel Peret—were uniquely influential and even late in life, many of Bill’s stories referenced his role-model, Gus: the sharp-shooter, magician, lasso-expert and global photographer.
Through all of his adventures, Bill consistently touched the lives of those around him by actively engaging in sincere conversation with both loved-ones and strangers, and offering assistance to those who were least able to help themselves. And it seemed he knew nearly everybody in western Oregon.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen Lasswell; his sister, Anne Lasswell Nagel and her husband Tom Nagel; three children, Alice Anne Lasswell Michael of Mt. Angel, Oregon, Cameron Phillip Lasswell of San Diego, California, and Laura Aimee Lasswell of Berlin, Germany; he leaves behind one grandson, Will Taylor Michael.
The family would like to thank Chantele’s Loving Touch in Sutherlin for their exceptional care, and Dr. Joel Lee for his devotion and attentiveness.
A memorial service to celebrate the life of Judge Bill Lasswell will be held at the Yoncalla Christian Assembly (formerly the Yoncalla United Methodist Church) at 195 Birch Street, Saturday June 24, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. a reception will follow at the Applegate House at 512 Old Applegate Road.
In lieu of flowers, those wishing to make a memorial contribution in Bill’s name are invited to consider Yoncalla Friends of the Library (P.O. Box 157, Yoncalla, OR 97499), Yoncalla Alumni Association (P.O. Box 442, Yoncalla, OR 97499, Attention Terry Duncan), International Rescue Committee or another worthy charity that best memorializes Bill’s values and the important impact of a life well-lived.