Dr. Ben Thal: 1932-2019

May 02, 2019

Dr. Ben Thal, age 86, surgeon, nationally exhibited artist, collector, veteran and longtime resident of Edmonds, died April 15, 2019.

He is survived by his two sons, Cory (wife Julianne) and Rob (Anissa Olson); grandchildren Daniel, Colin, Max and Marla; and brother, Dr. Sam Thal.

Predeceased by his parents, Ariel and Mariossel Thal; two brothers, Dr. Nathan Thal and Sidney Thal; a sister, Lilly Thal Warnick; and his partner, Gail Bereny.

A child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Ben was born August 8, 1932, in Vancouver, Canada. He moved with his parents and siblings when he was 5 years old to Bellingham, where they joined dozens of other immigrant relatives in a large Lithuanian Jewish community.

He graduated from Bellingham High School, the University of Washington in 1953, and the University of Washington Medical School in 1958. He was a member of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.

He served as a medical resident in otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota, where he met his wife, Janis. Following his residency, they returned to Seattle. Although they later divorced, they maintained a close friendship, sharing the love of their sons and grandchildren.

Ben practiced as a competent ear, nose and throat surgeon in Edmonds for over 40 years, also serving on the staff at Stevens Hospital.

Mechanically inclined, handy with gadgets and tools, blessed with an inventor’s imagination and curiosity, Ben designed a crank-powered surfboard as a teenager and held several patents. One patent improved alligator-forceps used during surgery.

He was most renowned, however, for his artwork. Despite never taking an art class, Ben began designing and creating ingenious and humorous wind-powered contraptions using a surgical scalpel to carve his creations.

Known as whirligigs, they featured as many as 30 moving parts and gears, setting a half-dozen mechanical actions into motion, showcasing Ben’s clever humor. His whirligigs have been featured on television and at art exhibits, including the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, and Bellevue Art Museum.

They can be found on YouTube by searching “Ben Thal,” which has garnered over one million hits.

Ben loved collecting art, his beloved Huskies, and cherished spending time with his family.

He will be greatly missed.

Graveside service was held April 18 at Bikur Cholim Cemetery in Seattle.

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