George Duff’s life was one of service during which he placed family at the forefront, according to his daughter-in-law, Robbi.
“He served his community, he served his family, he served his country, and he did so very humbly and wisely,” she said of the Korean War veteran and longtime Mercer Island resident who passed away on Jan. 1 in his favorite chair in his family room at the age of 91.
George and his wife Marilyn began their lives on Mercer Island in 1968 by way of Detroit after George was recruited to take the helm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. For the next 27 years as president of the chamber, he made an immense impact on the region by initiating and guiding the completion of the Washington State Convention Center, “home-porting” cruise lines into Seattle, playing one of the key roles in keeping the Seattle Mariners in town, having a hand in completing the Interstate 90 local connection point and more.
“My dad was a networker supreme, and most of the things that he did, he did kind of behind the scenes. Almost everything he did was a team effort,” said son, Bruce, adding that George connected with local United States Sen. Slade Gorton to get the wheels rolling with a Nintendo ownership group to purchase the M’s in the early 1990s.
Following his retirement from the chamber universe (he was the Detroit chamber’s executive vice president before moving to Seattle), the ever-generous George and Marilyn — who were married in 1954 — launched a family nonprofit Christian foundation, Joint Heirs Ministry. George continued displaying his strong work ethic throughout his life as a business consultant and mentor, his son said.
“His Christian faith is central to his life and he was involved in church. He set a personal example, which is something that I have as well,” Bruce added. “He was my job counselor throughout life and all my job changes. He was involved in helping to open doors for me.”
George displayed generosity with his time and money and was passionate about his work, said Robbi, adding that he often shared the following phrase about his drive to collaborate with others, “You can get a lot done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Bruce echoed his wife’s sentiment and noted that his father was an effective, humble leader and consensus builder.
John Pearson said he was blessed to have George as a friend, coach and mentor. Their relationship formed when Pearson was a young camp director at SAMBICA on Lake Sammamish from 1974-1979.
“He patiently mentored me in God-honoring management. Years later, in his retirement, he served enthusiastically as the dollar-a-year senior adviser for Christian Management Association. His coaching was life-saving for me in my CEO years at this national organization. With his wife Marilyn’s partnership and encouragement, their generosity was stunning,” Pearson said.
Greg Asimakoupoulos, chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores, shared a close bond with George and noted that his friend’s passing is leaving a hole in his life.
“His influence and example will remain with me always,” Asimakoupoulos said. “He lived a good life.”
The chaplain praised George for his generosity, which he implemented across the Island and beyond. He supported organizations that aid students with their college educations and helped fund and spread the word about the nationally known Free Wheelchair Mission. George possessed vital people management skills and was a consultant to churches and organizations in that realm, the chaplain added.
Delving into the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Asimakoupoulos said that his friend shared similar qualities with main character George Bailey.
“He was a behind-the-scenes kind of person that found ways to generously support. I mean, his middle name was ‘Generosity,’” said Asimakoupoulos, who added that George tipped several employees who served his table during a recent dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Anthony’s HomePort in Kirkland.
Another staple of George’s being was the 3-by-5 note card that he kept in his shirt pocket that listed his speaking points for the lunch or gathering he was attending, Asimakoupoulos said.
“He will be dearly missed,” Robbi said. “He’s a much-respected member of the family and the community.”
George — who was also an adult Sunday School class teacher at Mercer Island Covenant Church (now Evergreen) — is preceded in death by his parents, his older brother Neil Duff, and his son Brian Duff. He is survived by his wife Marilyn; his children Doreen Duff-Dings (Kenny), Bruce Duff (Robbi), and Laura Jones (Scott); nine grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; three nieces; and many extended family members.
A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. on Jan. 14 at Evergreen Covenant Church, 3200 78th Ave. SE, Mercer Island. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Free Wheelchair Mission.