Russ Warr, a former Astoria city councilor and community advocate who engraved local monuments and gravestones through his company, Astoria Granite Works, died from cancer Tuesday. He was 78.
Originally from Idaho, Warr came to Astoria in the early 1970s through his career with Sears, Roebuck & Co. He owned and operated a local Sears store for more than 20 years.
Mo Warr, his wife of nearly 25 years, said her husband had initially been on a short-term contract with Sears but dove into community service once he realized he’d be staying longer.
He served on the boards of numerous civic groups, including the Astoria School Board and the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. He helped start the Downtown Merchants Commission that preceded the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association. Mo Warr said her husband took a special joy in organizing events like the downtown trick or treat on Halloween, during which he would dress up as Dracula.
By 1994, Warr had moved on from Sears to Astoria Granite Works, where he would make his most tangible impact on the region. His company designed and engraved several public projects, including at Maritime Memorial Park in Uniontown and a plaque dedicated to actor Clark Gable near the public bathrooms on Exchange Street.
“He did do a lot,” Mo Warr said. “There are little parts of him all over town.”
In 2004, Warr was elected to the City Council, representing the east end of town as a fiscal conservative and believer in limited government. For the next 12 years, he served as a check on the spending and reach of city government. He became known for controversial stances, opposing a ban on smoking in city parks and supporting a liquefied natural gas terminal in Warrenton after public opinion had mostly turned against the idea.
“I have a real, basic problem deep in my heart when people ban things that are legal to do just because they don’t like them,” he said in 2016 about the smoking ban.
Warr took an interest in transportation, serving on a local transportation committee that led to the creation of the Sunset Empire Transportation District, the local transit agency. He advocated for a truck bypass and was the city’s representative on the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, which works to diversify the region’s economy.
Warr raised concerns about Astoria’s inability to maintain all of the services it promises. He took particular interest in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and spotty maintenance of burial plots at the city-run Ocean View Cemetery in Warrenton, where he engraved many headstones.
Former Mayor Arline LaMear served eight years with Warr on the City Council.
“I knew that Russ was much more conservative than I, but he never let that bother” him, LaMear said. “The difference in our political views never stopped us from being really congenial, cooperative and working for the betterment of the city.”
Willis Van Dusen, who was mayor for 24 years, first met Warr as a manager at Sears, where Van Dusen’s wife worked in the 1970s. The two served on the City Council together for a decade.
“I think of all the people I’ve ever known, Russ was the most well rounded,” Van Dusen said. “If you look at his community work, he was president of the Astoria City Council, and he was involved in a lot of community efforts to improve Astoria.”
One of Warr’s proudest accomplishments was working with Van Dusen and others in a partnership between the city, Recology, the Astoria School District and Columbia Memorial Hospital. They worked to transform a former city landfill on Williamsport Road into CMH Field, a youth sports complex the hospital financed in exchange for the former Warren Field.
Warr left the City Council in 2016 after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. The hospital and Oregon Health & Science University later partnered at the west end of Warren Field to build the Knight Cancer Collaborative, where he would receive treatments.
“He was a leader trying to get the Knight Cancer (Collaborative) into Astoria,” Van Dusen said. “And so it was very ironic going to visit him at the building that he was a big part of building.”
Warr is survived by his wife and children, including Kurt Warr, of Hercules, California; Kari Petersen, of Astoria; Heather Warr, of Boise, Idaho; Heidi Marchal, of Meridian, Idaho; Jennifer Van Hook, of Warrenton; and Liz Clark, in Hillsboro.