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Originally published Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 4:37 AM

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Stuart Sloan rides for life

Stuart Sloan, former CEO of QFC, talks with Nicole Brodeur about the Obliteride, his new initiative to benefit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center.

Seattle Times columnist

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Stuart Sloan is the face of the upcoming Obliteride, a three-day bike event that will raise money for cancer research.

It’s just that he doesn’t want you to see that face.

Ask him to sit for a photo to go with this story, and Sloan, 69, shakes his head.

“Thanks,” he demurred the other day in his office at University Village, which he owns. He sat in a half-zip sweater and khakis. Silver hair, blue eyes, glasses and very white teeth. He is wiry and fit. When he told me he alternates daily 25-mile bike rides and four-mile runs, I believed him.

But no pictures.

This is madness, I said. You’ve been the CEO of Quality Food Centers and Egghead, Inc. You’ve sat on the boards of J. Crew and Clearwire Corp., Fred Meyer and Rite Aid. You were the president of Schuck’s Auto Body when you were 23.

Did nobody ever ask you to sit for a proper portrait?

If they did, Sloan said, he almost always refused.

“I’ve been pretty consistent about it my whole life,” he said.

Besides, he added, this newest venture isn’t about him at all.

The Obliteride, a three-day fundraising bike ride planned for August, is about the patients and the families dealing with cancer, and helping one of the many minds at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to crack its vicious code, and find a cure.

Participants will sign up to ride one of four routes — 25, 50, 100 or 180 miles — that all start at Seattle’s Magnuson Park on August 10. The 180-mile route is split into two days.

At the end, everyone will gather for food, music and entertainment, all of it underwritten by Sloan and his highfalutin’ co-sponsors: Seattle business heavyweights like Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri; Costco head Jim Sinegal and his wife, Janet; and Value Village head Tom Ellison and his wife, Sue.

If the Obliteride does what Sloan wants it to — and this is a guy who gets what he wants — it will raise $2.5 million, and engage 2,500 riders and 1,000 volunteers. He sees it as an annual event, a steady stream of cash, support and awareness.

Its name may sound like an organized pub crawl or a roving party bus, but Sloan isn’t fooling around. If there is anything to be obliterated, it’s cancer.

“I am a strong believer that true miracles come from science,” he said. “And there is no better place than the Hutch. We should be supporting what is one of the finest organizations in the world.”

This is the place where bone-marrow transplants were pioneered. Some 14,000 have been performed in Seattle, and 1 million in the world.

I asked Sloan who he saw in his head when he dreamed up the ride, who motivated him to Do Something and take on this biological behemoth.

He paused, as if he was deciding how much of himself to share.

“OK,” he said after a moment. “We do all have someone. My dearest friend in the world died of cancer. Lynne Cohen.”

She lived in California, he said, and left a husband and children.

A few minutes later, revisiting the question, Sloan paused again and rubbed his wet eyes.

“I see little kids,” he said with a sigh. “Cancer doesn’t know who anyone is. It doesn’t know how much money you have or where you live or whether you’re young or old.”

Sloan has spent plenty of time in hospital rooms, standing there with flowers and encouraging words that evaporated in the face of the Big C.

“Haven’t we all done that?” he asked. “This is about all of us.”

This isn’t the first time that Sloan has used his wealth, pull and energy to take on a big issue.

In 1998, he pledged to donate $1 million a year for seven years to the beleaguered T.T. Minor Elementary School in Seattle’s Central District. It was the biggest grant ever to a single Seattle school.

Sloan’s money kept class sizes to 20, funded before- and after-school programs, teaching assistants, uniforms, daily snacks, a longer school year and subsidized preschool.

Over time, test scores rose, but in 2009, the Seattle School District closed the school to cut costs. He learned, along with everyone else in the city, what a big rock to move that was.

Sloan didn’t want to talk about that — only the Obliteride. Soon everyone will be talking about it, he said, once they see the streetcars wrapped in orange, the signage all over University Village.

Sloan can be seen in that — and also seen doing the ride.

“God willing,” he said. “For an old geezer, I’m in OK shape.”

On my way out, I double-checked his numbers: $2.5 million in the first year. Right?

Sloan paused, and looked at his executive director, Amy Lavin.

“We have to do better than that,” he told her, then turned to me. “We’re gonna bust our butts.”

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com

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