Memorial to honor former Sammamish resident

March 17, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Family and friends will host a fundraiser for the American Red Cross to honor Eastlake High School graduate Clayton Olney, who died Dec. 22. Contributed

Family and friends will host a fundraiser for the American Red Cross to honor Eastlake High School graduate Clayton Olney, who died Dec. 22. Contributed

Once, on a family vacation to Hawaii, Clayton Olney took his parents to a botanical garden to see a Bodhi tree. Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha, the founder of their faith, achieved enlightenment beneath the leaves of the sacred fig. Olney arranged for a sprout from the tree to be sent to Washington. He found a Tibetan monk in Bellevue to bless the sprout. Olney then donated the sprout to the University of Washington Department of Botany. His parents said the episode serves as an example of their son’s generosity.

“His whole life was like that,” his father, Guy Olney, said last week.

Clayton Olney died Dec. 22. He was 25.

To honor his memory, family and friends will come together next week for Footprints for Clay, a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. Clayton Olney, a longtime Red Cross volunteer, traveled to Virginia in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to man a phone bank to help disaster victims find lodging.

“He was quite proud of his Red Cross work,” Guy Olney said.

For the fundraiser, his family and friends will sell Stella d’Oro daylilies. The flowers are yellow, for Clayton Olney’s favorite childhood color.

His mother, Pamela Olney, thanked her employer, QuiltWorks Northwest, of Bellevue, for allowing her to conduct the sale at the store from March 26-29.

Pamela Olney said she hopes the event inspires others to make contributions as her son did. In addition to his Red Cross work, Clayton Olney volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and the Puget Sound Blood Center. He served on the campaign to re-elect Gov. Chris Gregoire last fall. Clayton Olney was also invited to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama. His family attended in his place.

His fellow campaign staffers “all had the highest honor for Clayton,” Guy Olney said. Gregoire attended his memorial service.

Clayton Olney was dedicated to other pursuits, his father said. They were avid underwater archaeologists who researched the location of a sunken Navy PB4Y-2 Privateer in Lake Washington and built a robot with an underwater camera to explore the wreck. They discovered the aircraft resting on its landing gear at the bottom of the lake, undisturbed since the 1956 crash.

The family moved to Sammamish when Clayton Olney was a small child. He graduated from Eastlake High School and went on to the UW, where he studied sociology and joined the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. He kept in touch with friends he met throughout his life, his father said. Many of his friends have reached out to his family since his death.

“He was an amazing kid,” Guy Olney said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment on this story at

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One Response to “Memorial to honor former Sammamish resident”

  1. Sherry on March 26th, 2009 8:24 am

    This story brought tears to my eyes and such a young man to die. What I kept thinking about was why did God take him at this time, but then I realized he took him because he was the best. To have all that going for him at such a young age. How proud the parents must be. My thoughts and prayers go out to the parents and I have a friend in Bellevue that I am going to e-mail this article to and ask him to buy some daylilies. It just happens that yellow flowers are my favorites!

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