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Sunday, June 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

James Veeder played a key role at Boeing

Seattle Times staff reporter

When James Ryer Veeder got a job as a mechanic at Boeing in the early 1940s, it marked a major step forward from his family's struggles during the Great Depression.

When he was 12, the family moved from South Dakota to Redmond's Union Hill area to escape drought, locusts and Depression-era unemployment, migrating here in a boxcar on a freight train.

Conditions in Redmond weren't much better at first, said Mr. Veeder's wife, Vera Veeder.

"Jim remembered putting cardboard in his shoes because the holes were so big," she said.

Despite his tough first years in the Northwest, Mr. Veeder went on to become a star technician on the fledgling B-29 bomber project, and by the time he was 22, the company had hired him as a supervisor.

Mr. Veeder, of Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood, died Wednesday (June 7) at the age of 85 after battling various illnesses.

"He excelled at what he did there, because it was such a step away from what he came from," said his son, Anthony Veeder of Seattle.

"My dad never became a vice president or anything like that, but what he did do, he did very well."

After graduating from Redmond High School, Mr. Veeder traveled to California and enrolled in an aircraft college. He returned to Seattle and in 1941 was hired at Boeing, where he worked with some of the best aircraft crews in the industry.

Anthony Veeder said his father impressed co-workers and supervisors after being assigned to the B-29 project, headed by legendary test pilot Eddie Allen. The experimental bomber's engines would mysteriously catch fire, stumping technicians.

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That problem caused an accident that took the life of Allen in 1943, when a B-29 crashed into a meat-packing plant. . In the months that followed, Mr. Veeder tried to pin down what was wrong.

"All of a sudden it just dawned on him," his son said. Unexpected fuel leakage was causing the fires.

Mr. Veeder was elevated to flight-test supervisor.

Mr. Veeder was also instrumental in Boeing's B-52, 707, 727, 737 and 747 programs, his son said.

Health problems forced Mr. Veeder to retire in 1972.

His wife, 83, remembers his good-natured personality. They met when both were members of the Redmond High School band. One of her girlfriends had mentioned Mr. Veeder years earlier, and his name stuck in her head.

"I was sitting next to this kid with a trumpet and I said, 'Who are you?' and he said, 'Jimmy Veeder,' and I said, 'Oh, so you're the guy I've been looking for all this time.' "

Because of a shop accident that cut the tips of some of his fingers, Mr. Veeder didn't wear a wedding band, so early on she suggested he wear a diamond earring instead. A good sport, he agreed to have his ear pierced.

"My mother did the surgical work," Vera Veeder said. "We gave him a few glasses of — how do you say it? — something to soften the moment."

"He wore it for many years," she said of the earring. "They called him 'Diamond Jim' at Boeing."

She said her husband loved hard work, even at their retirement property in Okanogan County, where they lived until he was too sick to stay in such a remote place.

She also noted his great smile.

"He had a smile that just radiated," she said. "In fact, he was being asked all the time, 'Please smile. Smile for us.' "

In his final years, Mr. Veeder couldn't speak "but he was able to understand," she said, "and smile."

In addition to his wife and son Anthony, Mr. Veeder is survived by daughter Lonnie Wright of Kirkland; sons Matt Veeder and John Veeder, both of Seattle, and Kurt Veeder of Spokane; and his sister, Vicky Moriarty of Kirkland.

Funeral services for Mr. Veeder will be held at 10:45 a.m. today at Cedar Lawns Memorial Park in Redmond, 7200 180th Ave. N.E.

Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or tbeason@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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