Longtime Island resident “Mississippi Steve” Blackledge sailed on to calmer waters June 14, 2023, one day after his 71st birthday and party on the beach at Fay Bainbridge. He was a master storyteller through which we learned his life was a unique and extraordinary one.
Born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi, to Exie and James Blackledge, Steve was raised with two brothers and one sister and many foster siblings who passed through their home. His childhood was full of adventure, family and community that produced the many memories to which some became the subjects of his stories. Steve graduated from Mississippi Gulf Coast College and served in the U.S. Navy, where he became certified in aviation electronics which was the foundation of his lifelong career in electrical and mechanical repair.
In 1979, after reading a National Geographic article about the great Pacific Northwest, Steve hooked up his trailer and truck and headed out to discover all he had read about. He eventually landed on Bainbridge Island and called it home for more than 40 years.
In the late 1980s, “Mississippi Steve’s Garage” opened at Island Center and eventually relocated to Lynwood Center, where it remained until the mid-1990s. He then worked on CNC equipment for several years, and eventually opened his own marine repair business which he operated until his retirement in 2020. The connections he made with customers over the years turned into great friendships that remained until his passing. Being a part of the Bainbridge Island community was special to Steve. Whether it was hanging out at the old watering holes, the hardware store, on the docks, having coffee with others, or running with the original Saturday Striders and in various Island races, there were plenty of friends and memories made along the way.
Steve had a lifelong love of sailing – whether it was on the Gulf Coast, the Puget Sound, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, or the North Coast of British Columbia – being on the water and powering a boat by the wind brought true peace. He was also an amateur photographer and often said he was grateful to live in the age of digital photography. He was always learning something new – whether it was mastering CAD drawings for things he wanted to build, welding, sewing canvas and upholstery for his boat, or developing Raspberry Pi programs – his mind and hands were always engaged in a project.
Known as Uncle Steve to many, it was the relationships with the children of family and friends that brought Steve absolute joy in life. The bonds, stories and jokes shared over the decades were many, and there was always time for coffee and cocoa, to build things in the shop, to play in the parks, to work on boats, and take numerous dinghy rides and sailing trips.
In 1996, Steve met his wife Mary Ann through a mutual friend. They enjoyed 26 years sailing through life and local waters along with their dogs Mona and Pearl, and working and living aboard their sailboats, camping, taking road trips, and other travels.
Steve is survived by Mary Ann, his dog Pearl, the many kids who fondly refer to him as Uncle Steve, and the many friends who know him as Mississippi Steve. His passing has created a quietness in our hearts, but his legacy, stories and voice will live on.
“Glad You Got To See Me” – Steve