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Originally published Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Tim Gabutero, raised in Seattle projects, became Pac-10 basketball official

Tim Gabutero of Seattle, a Pac-10 basketball official for more than a decade, died Sunday of liver and pancreatic cancer. He was 53.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tim Gabutero knew well the stress of officiating Pac-10 basketball after working as a referee for more than a decade, so when he began having recurring stomach pain, he reached for antacids and the tough-guy attitude learned as a kid in the Seattle projects.

But just before Christmas last year, he was lacing up his sneakers in Hawaii to referee his 381st college basketball game when another official looked over at him. "Tim, you don't look so good," the official said.

By New Year's Day, Mr. Gabutero learned he was feeling more than just job stress. Diagnosis: liver and pancreatic cancer. Three to six months to live. He lasted the full six months before dying on Tuesday with his wife and young daughter by his side. He was 53.

When word of his death circulated in the clubby community of NCAA officials, his friends quickly began writing remembrances to give to Mr. Gabutero's 1 ½-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, so she would know how charming and determined her father was.

"He was a guy who would stand out in a crowd, the way he drew people to him," said Al Rossi, a former official who first met Mr. Gabutero in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Gabutero, the son of an immigrant father, grew up in the Rainier Vista housing project and starred in football, basketball and baseball at Franklin High School. He kept in touch with many people he met at Franklin, including Trent Johnson, the Louisiana State University basketball coach.

As a scrappy, undersized left-handed pitcher, Mr. Gabutero played baseball at Bellevue Community College — earning the most inspirational award in 1975 — and at Seattle University and briefly in the minor leagues.

Jim Gabutero said his brother was so competitive he would not mind enraging opposing fans by celebrating strikeouts from the pitcher's mound. "He would try to intimidate the team even as a pitcher," said Jim Gabutero, of Lynnwood. "He was something else."

Unable to make it as a player, Mr. Gabutero shifted to officiating.

"He was a cocky, confident, tough kid out of the projects," said Frank Bosone, a basketball official for 40 years who met Mr. Gabutero at BCC. "That determination and confidence served him well in officiating. That was his strength."

Mr. Gabutero moved to the San Francisco area while working for Nordstrom, then became a high-school physical-education coach, said lifelong friend Ron Omori, of Shoreline. He worked his way up to the Division I level in the mid-1990s, officiating Pac-10 and West Coast Conference games.

"He was a very confident official," said University of Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. "You felt even if you didn't agree with his call, he believed in his heart it was the right call."

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Omori, also an official, introduced Mr. Gabutero to overseas games. Together, they went to Germany, Italy and Croatia, where Mr. Gabutero was so taken by the Adriatic Sea that he gave his daughter the middle name of Adrianna.

After a divorce, Mr. Gabutero called up a friend of his extended family — a jewelry-store owner named Margaret — just before Christmas 2005. At the end of their first date, on Jan. 8, 2006, Mr. Gabutero proposed. Margaret and Tim Gabutero were married 12 days later in the Napa Valley, and soon moved back to Seattle.

"It was love at first sight," said Margaret Gabutero. "I loved the way he walked, I loved the way he talked, I loved the way he smelled."

A year to the day after that first date, Jaclyn, Mr. Gabutero's first child, was born. He was a stay-at-home dad for part of her infancy, and treated a stepson as his own, said Margaret Gabutero.

The cancer — a slow-growing type of tumor called islet cell — may have been growing in Mr. Gabutero for perhaps three years, she said. Because he was an avid golfer and excellent athlete, he did not view his stomach pain as a warning, she said.

After the diagnosis, Johnson, who was then Stanford University's coach, visited Mr. Gabutero during a Seattle road trip, bringing a basketball signed by the Stanford players. Mr. Gabutero quickly dropped to 80 pounds and could barely talk at his death. "That cancer just ate him up," said Omori, who talked with Mr. Gabutero on Sunday.

On his deathbed, Margaret Gabutero said, her husband was at peace. His last words, she said, were: "God has blessed me with a beautiful family."

A memorial service for Mr. Gabutero is planned for 11:30 a.m. July 26, at St. George Parish on Beacon Hill, 5117 13th Ave S. In addition to his brother, wife and daughter, Mr. Gabutero is survived by his mother, Evelyn Roiles of Colville, Stevens County; and sisters Phyllis Warren, of Evans, Stevens County, Sherry Stewart, of Ellensburg, Linda Hovanski of Hilo, Hawaii, and Judy Mariano of Daly City, Calif.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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