Hector Gaxiola Camacho

As a student in Mexico City in the late 1960s, Hector was a political activist.

Hector Gaxiola Camacho died on March 19th at home on Maury Island after fighting prostate cancer for two years. A memorial service will be held outdoors at the Vashon Cemetery on Friday, April 5th, at 2:30 pm. All are welcome.

Hector was born on June 19th, 1950, in Santa Rosa, Sinaloa, Mexico, to Rafaela Camacho de Gaxiola and Placido Gaxiola Castro. When he was young, the family moved to Guasave, Sinaloa, where his father had a store in the market. Hector was the oldest of many siblings, and everyone in the family helped in the store. As a teenager, Hector ran the family tortilla factory. Despite work and school, and his father’s disapproval of sports, Hector became a soccer star in his hometown, and played in a state championship. He also found time to get into lots of trouble. Once, when Hector was in high school, the students had a meeting with the local police at their headquarters. Hector slipped into the unmanned radio room, saw a list of patrol cars, picked up a microphone and started ordering the cars on a wild goose chase. Hector had to run when the policeman from car #54 returned to the station, instead of to “La Zona Roja” as directed.

As a student at the National Polytechnic institute in Mexico City in the late 1960s, Hector was a political activist involved in demonstrations against government’s inhumane treatment and displacement of Mexico City’s poor leading up to the 1968 Olympics. Hector survived the October 2nd, 1968, Tlatelolco massacre, where thousands of other demonstrators were killed.

He met Kathy Flynn from Vashon Island in January, 1975, while living in Guadalajara. She was in Mexico on a foreign studies program from the University of Washington. They were married by March, surprising both families. Hector came to Vashon with Kathy, to ‘live in a house in the woods.’ Hector studied English at El Centro de La Raza in Seattle, and became their first student to be accepted by the University of Washington. Having changed his interest from politics to plants, Hector studied hardy tropical plants and began going on plant-collecting trips that would continue the rest of his life. He also began working at Beall’s greenhouses on Vashon, selecting orchids for orders. The history of the Beall brothers collecting orchids in Brazil in the 1930s was an inspiration to Hector.

The 80s and 90s brought the birth of their son Charles Rafael in 1980, daughters Luz Gisela in 1983, and Micaela Jane in 1991. The year Charles was born, they bought land on Maury, and with the help of the Bradley brothers, built their house in the woods. The family lived on Maury, Hector building the garden every year, planting and collecting on Vashon and in Mexico. His friend Gerald Bol wrote this account of a plant collecting trip in 1987 for the American Bamboo Society newsletter:

“Hector Gaxiola is a fellow bamboo enthusiast, nurseryman, and member of the Pacific NW chapter of The American Bamboo Society. Having met him at his home on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, I was very pleased when he agreed to come with me to collect new bamboo species in Mexico… shortly after arriving at the Institute of Botany at the University of Guadalajara, the curator asked if we would like to see some bamboo 15 or so kilometers away… After bouncing in the institute jeep, through very dry country we came to a deep ravine called Arroyo de Los Pajaritos where Hector and I had the thrill of seeing our first Otatea Acuminata Aztecorum (Mexican Weeping Bamboo) growing in the wild.”

Plants remained the focus of his life. He was a member of the American Bamboo Society, The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden, and volunteered at the Washington Park Arboretum. Hector came to specialize in bamboo and cannabis. He was driven to breed a cannabis plant that would have a short blooming cycle so it could thrive in the short summers of the Pacific Northwest. Hector loved plants and believed that relationships with them could heal. In his later years he focused on growing cannabis with medicinal properties for patients on Vashon Island. Hector would often say, “when you’re young, you plant. When you’re old, you rake.” Up to end of his life, Hector was still planting.

Hector Gaxiola Camacho is survived by his wife Kathy Flynn de Gaxiola, son Charles, daughter Luz and her partner Francis, daughter Micaela and her husband Ethan, siblings Ildefonso, Rosa, Ignacio, Placido, Luz Bertilda, Juan Pablo, Jackeline, and many other relatives in the United States and Mexico.

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