memories

Hell of a birthmark, Hal

Somehow, his favorite Far Side cartoon punchline seems fitting, though the “birthmark” for Dad was an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, a few years ago. Here, I’m sharing the obituary I wrote for him, which we have had published in a few places, this week. Dad passed away on March 21, this year.

We miss you, Cordell.

dignified blonde man, relaxing in Provence
Dad in Provence in 1999

Cordell Hunt Bahn passed away peacefully in his Tacoma home on Monday, March 21, 2022, surrounded by family, at the age of 86. He was born on March 2, 1936 in Geneva, New York.

Dad, Mike and me at the Monterey Historic races in the 1990s

Cordell was a man of passions! As a child, he visited Watkins Glen, New York with his father and was hooked: for over 30 years, he restored and raced various classic automobiles at prestigious historic car races and shows. Cordell and his 1950 Allard J2 and a 1927 type 35C Bugatti made many appearances at the Monterey Historic Races and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, as well as the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival in Wisconsin. He was an active member in several car clubs, such as the Porsche Club and the Allard Owners Club.

He was an enthusiastic pilot and fan of aviation history. He began flying in 1977 and logged 3100 hours, many of them in a Mooney M20K or a Decathlon acrobatics aircraft.

He shared his love of the outdoors with his family, taking alpine ski trips to White Pass, Washington and Sun Valley, Idaho and fishing trips in Montana and Alaska. He introduced his wife Robbi to fly fishing, which prompted many trips to fishing waters near and far. Robbi rapidly surpassed his fishing skills, patience and stamina but he soldiered on gamely, at least in warm tropical waters like those near Bonaire. Throughout his life, he greatly enjoyed bonding and bird hunting with canine companions, especially his black lab, Puck.

I may have inherited this gene

Coffee and pancakes placed high in his list of life’s pleasures, as did crème brûlée for dessert. Cordell was an enthusiastic reader, devouring biographies, U.S. histories and hard-boiled detective novels; one of his recent favorites was Archie Goes Home, the most recent Nero Wolfe mystery. Cordell loved a good joke: the dryer the better. Gary Larson’s comics never ceased to elicit a snort and he typically had a good time coming up with jaw-dropping ideas for costume parties.

Cordell cared fiercely about precision from an early age: at age 10, he purchased a Mercury outboard motor. He earned an Expert Marksman qualification in riflery, likely even before starting high school, where his father taught marksmanship. This obsession with detail and craft carried into his racing and flying pastimes. However, it is reflected most in his career and achievements as a cardiothoracic surgeon. When patients and colleagues remember him, they speak in terms of how thorough and relentless he was in his care, and how he always made sure to talk with his patients as much as they needed.

Cordell earned a Bachelor of the Arts with distinction in 1958 and an MD in 1962, both at the University of Rochester in New York. He often mentioned a highlight of this period: a marine physiology fellowship with the Arctic Health Research Center in Anchorage, Alaska, which took him to the Pribilof Islands to work with fur seals.

He completed his internship in Seattle at Harborview (then King County) Hospital and the University of Washington in 1963. He next served in the Army Medical Corps at the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Korea and Madigan Army hospital in Tacoma (1964-66). He completed training at general surgery at the University of Oregon hospitals and finally in cardiothoracic surgery in Los Angeles, at LA County-USC Medical Center and Good Samaritan Hospitals.

In his Tacoma office

In 1972, Dr. Bahn started the cardiac surgical program at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma. A year later, he and his partner Kari Vitikainen established the Cardiothoracic Surgeons group in Tacoma. He served as president of the North Pacific Surgical Association and was principal author of 11 manuscripts published in refereed surgical journals. He left Tacoma in 1989 to provide cardiac surgical services at St. Charles Hospital in Bend, Oregon, then returned to Tacoma in 1992 and resumed his practice until retiring in 1998.

Grounded deeply in personal connections and conversations with like minds, Cordell attended most of his high school, college and medical school reunions. He relished the annual pasta dinner with the Tacoma Sound-to-Narrows foot race “Everytimers” group: he ran 47 of the 47 in-person 12 kilometer events that have happened to date. He delighted in exchanging adventure stories with fellow pilots in the Quiet Birdmen aviators club and also with fellow vintage car racers in between laps and while tuning his cars.

man in running outfit

Cordell is survived by his wife Roberta Krumm, his daughter Arah Bahn (Steve Morman) of St. Paul, Minnesota, his son Michael Bahn (Laura Tietjen) of Yachats, Oregon and his beloved Labrador Retriever, Chip. He is preceded in death by Arah and Michael’s mother, Betty Bahn, his sister Joanne Corwin and his parents, Jesse and Nell Bahn.

Donations in Cordell’s name may be sent to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

1970s father and 2 children
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