Cover photo for Jay Alden Piper's Obituary
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1938 Jay 2021

Jay Alden Piper

June 25, 1938 — June 11, 2021

Jay Alden Piper, MUCM, U.S. Navy, Ret.

June 25, 1938 – June 11, 2021

Jay Piper loved to tell stories about his 20 years in the Navy. He started: “You know the difference between a fairy tale and sea story? A fairy tale starts Once upon a time. A sea story starts This is no sh*t!” Jay’s own story had a rough start, but a fairy tale ending. His mother was deaf and partially blind from a genetic condition; his father struggled with alcohol addiction and died at 44 of emphysema. Money was in short supply for the Tacoma family of three growing boys, David, Jay, and Dan. Jay learned to be his mother’s eyes and ears; Jay observed everything, nothing escaped his notice. Throughout her life, Jay cared for his mother as her guardian. On visits to her nursing home, he would spell out words with his finger on her forearm to communicate. They would argue and shout, and when nurses rushed to the room, he’d say “Haven’t you ever had a fight with your mother?”

He grew up listening to his guitar-playing father’s hillbilly band, then heard on the radio the great violinist Isaac Stern. That opened the world of fine music to Jay, and in school, Lincoln High in Tacoma, he picked up the trumpet and French horn. His father said Jay had nothing but “horns in his head.” At seventeen, Jay joined the U.S.Navy. Jay asked to be a Navy musician, but instead he was sent to a rocket testing facility in El Centro, California, where Jay jumped out of a tower to dodge incoming. But in typical Jay fashion, he survived, and got into the Navy School of Music at Norfolk, Virginia. His amazing career led to Navy Bandmaster, achieving the rank of Master Chief, one of that brotherhood of Navy chiefs who run the world.

In 1960 he married the girl he’d grown up with in Tacoma, Diane Emily Teggie. Their two sons, Chris and Sean, were born in San Diego, a Navy city Jay loved for its sunshine. When they lived in Navy housing in Virginia, the neighbors were also Navy musicians. His sons recall pool parties rocking with music and good times.

Jay served in the U.S. Navy from 1955 to 1975 aboard nineteen ships, from aircraft carriers to cruisers and destroyers. His tours of duty included serving as bandmaster for the Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla12 and for Commander, U.S. Second Fleet. His favorite tour was as part of Admiral Briscoe’s U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, home ported in Naples, Italy.

A Vietnam War veteran, Jay deployed to sea multiple times, and the family had moved from one coast to the other. Jay suffered from alcohol addiction, quit drinking in 1969, but struggled with depression. The marriage was dissolved in 1978.

In 1969 Jay helped found the Navy Alcohol Rehabilitation Program, which has since helped hundreds of thousands of sailors. He opened the first unit in Bremerton Navy Hospital in 1972. In 1980, Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, hired Jay as the Outreach Coordinator for the newly opened MacDonald Treatment Center. His passion there was to spread the word that you can bring the “bottom” up to an alcoholic through intervention. His ambition was “to help make intervention a household word.” And in his lifetime he saw that happen.

In 1981 Jay married his beloved wife Joan at the lighthouse on Point Loma in San Diego, for 40 years of an inseparable friendship and love affair. Jay helped Joan’s son Steve finish high school and develop musical interests. In 1982, a month before their first anniversary, Jay had his first heart attack, launching a decades-long, heroic struggle with heart disease. But the pair enjoyed life in La Jolla and La Costa, traveled to Europe and Hawaii, then moved to Bainbridge Island, drawn to Washington by the pull of grandchildren and all four sons who had ended up in the Puget Sound region. Jay directed the Farragut Brass Band in Bremerton, Washington, and played French horn in the Bainbridge Island symphony orchestra. To rehearsals he wore a t-shirt that said “Stop the Violins.”

Jay encouraged Joan’s interests and talents, as she pursued a museum career that led to executive director of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. The Bainbridge Island Fire Department saved his life many many times during the 30 years on the island. He died on June 11, 2021 from complications of heart failure. His will to live was legendary, as the average doctor would say he “did not look that good on paper “… but his spirit, courage and positive attitude never flagged. He was an inspiration to the fine medical teams who treated him.

In 2009 Jay was deemed an “Eminent Churchillian” by the Churchill Society. He discovered a passion for Winston Churchill while recovering from the first of several open-heart surgeries. Starting with William Manchester’s The Last Lion, Jay collected a substantial library about his hero. When hurricane Katrina wiped out a fellow Churchillian’s collection, Jay donated his. Jay wore a T-shirt quoting Churchill: “Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never, never!”

As a dear friend and doctor said, “Jay was a man of love, but he was not born into love. He earned it.” Jay is survived by his devoted wife of almost 40 years, Joan Berkeley Fowkes Piper; his sons Chris and Sean Piper, their spouses Diana Piper and Gibb Fischer; bonus sons Steve and Randy Pitkin, their spouses Stephanie Sheldahl Pitkin and Roberta Phelin Pitkin; four grandsons Andrew and Neil Piper, Evan and Damian Pitkin; Andrew’s spouse Brianna Piper and Damian’s spouse Keira Dishion Pitkin, granddaughters Athena Pitkin and Beth Powell, bonus-grandchildren Nick and Jason Phelin, and great-grandchildren Vivienne Leigh Piper, Tyr and Faela Pitkin, Kendra and Kloie Phelin, plus former horn students, his musical children Michael Kushler and Torrey Rowe.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Bainbridge Island Volunteer Firefighters Association (or BIVFFA) at 8895 Madison Avenue NE, Bainbridge WA 98110. A direct link can be found down below under Memorial Contributions.


Arrangements are entrusted to the Cook Family Funeral Home of Bainbridge Island, WA

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Jay Alden Piper, please visit our flower store.

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