PENDLETON — Kimbra Cook rejected the overtures of her future husband for months.
A mutual friend wanted to introduce Cook to a really great guy named Scott Fairley, but the newly divorced single mom simply wasn’t ready. Fairley called to ask if she would meet him for coffee. A month later, he called again. Finally, she went.
When the pair met at Raphael’s for coffee and dessert, lightning struck quickly. They talked and talked. Finally, the waitress told them the restaurant had closed half an hour earlier.
“It seemed like just a few minutes,” Cook remembers. “It was like a time warp.”
The couple was married in 2002.
Fairley, who has served on the Pendleton City Council for three years, died Tuesday while vacationing with Cook and their son, Lieden, in Mexico. A rare aneurysm of the hepatic artery burst, killing Fairley at the age of 53.
Those who knew Fairley are reeling.
“He was so energetic, so healthy, so smart,” said Dale Primmer, friend and fellow city councilor. “There’s a lot of shock right now.”
Primmer and other friends described Fairley’s way of navigating the world as kind, optimistic and nonjudgmental. Everyone seemed to know him. Walking downtown with Fairley took time.
“He knew every single person he ran across,” Primmer said. “He made everyone feel like they were his best friend, and to some degree they were.”
If Fairley was a dog, he’d be a golden retriever, said Judge Eva Temple.
“He loved everyone and assumed everyone loved him,” Temple said. “Therefore it was true.”
Temple remembers Fairley back in Pendleton High School as “a skinny, strawberry blonde with a letterman’s jacket.” Fairley, who graduated in 1985, ran track and cross-country, played trombone in jazz band and was a member of the French club.
Lifelong friends Joe and Jill Deutz said Fairley never stopped moving. In high school, he started snow shoveling and woodcutting businesses and worked on his 1957 Willys Jeep. As a young man, he traveled through Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Fairley seemed to navigate the world with easy humor and grace that attracted others.
“Scott, more than anyone else I’ve known, had a gelling effect on whatever group he was with,” Joe Deutz said. “The first question everyone asked when invited to any occasion, was whether or not Scott would be there.”
In 1993, he and Pat Temple — Eva’s husband — formed a company called Living Heritage Tours. The pair took groups in a 16-passenger van to various sites around Northeast Oregon. They created an interpretive center inside the Blakeley Grain Elevator near Adams that highlighted the wheat history of the area. They also did step-on tours, meeting tour buses in places, such as Meacham, and giving local color. The buses stopped at prearranged mile markers and “we would ‘hijack’ the bus,” Pat Temple said.
Temple played a snake oil salesman wearing a bowler and pinstripe suit. Fairley played a cowboy. Sometimes they were joined by a floozie, played by Dee Armstrong.
After the tour company, Fairley got into public affairs work with the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and later for the Governor’s Office as eastern region coordinator. Most recently, he was regional development officer for Business Oregon.
He worked hard, but managed to fit in daily walks, bike rides and trips to Wallowa Lake, Hells Canyon and vacations across the pond with Cook. He skied and rode his motorcycle. Each morning, he walked his redbone coonhound, Truman.
“I’m not sure who was walking who,” Primmer said. “Sometimes Scott was on his bike and he didn’t even have to pedal.”
Dan Haug often accompanied Fairley on adventures into the great outdoors. In January, he, Fairley and another friend hiked into a spot near where the Imnaha and Snake rivers meet. Haug marveled at Fairley’s stamina.
“He could out-walk most people,” Haug said.
They spent one day hiking several miles almost straight up to a ridge overlooking the Snake River where Scott had earlier scattered his dad’s ashes. He looked at his dad’s photo, kept there in a Ziploc bag, and placed it back under a cairn that he rebuilt each year.
Fairley brought his energy, intellect and good cheer with him into the Pendleton City Council chambers. Mayor John Turner came aboard the same week as Fairley.
“He was always involved in the discussion,” Turner said. “He never sat back quietly. He was a good compass for us. I will miss him.”
Family members describe a sunny, but complex man who advocated for environmental responsibility and public broadcasting. He was a person who could never sit still, said his sister Jennifer Peterson. An encouraging optimist who loved his community.
“His friends and family are going to miss his happy spirit,” she said.
His mother, Carolyn Frasier, is still trying to wrap her mind around a world without Scott.
“I’m brokenhearted,” she said. “Everyone who knows Scott loves him.”
Cook is still in Mexico, arranging passage home for her husband with the American Consulate. This morning, as she talked by phone, she was operating on about two hours sleep.
Fairley was admitted to the hospital in Playa del Carmen on New Year’s Eve, she said. His doctor broke the news he needed surgery to repair an aneurysm. The couple attempted to call their insurance company to get authorization.
“We could never get emergency authorization,” Cook said. “By Monday, we still didn’t have approval.”
They played endless games of 4 Kings in the Corner as Fairley tried to ignore his pain, she said. They discussed paying for the surgery themselves and set the wheels in motion. Before the operation, the aneurysm burst.
Cook is devastated. She will miss the guy who made her coffee every morning, the man who bonded immediately with her young son way back at the beginning of their relationship, and his joyful laugh. The one who left crumbs on the kitchen counter and took her on wonderful adventures and spent their anniversary with her at Raphael’s. She will miss the husband who stayed cool when she lost her temper.
“He was the calm to my storm,” Cook said. “He was always my rock who kept me straight.
Cook’s voice broke.
“I don’t know how I’ll do it without him.”