Mark Bixby.
Mark Bixby.

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Athlete and computer nerd, handyman and musician, dedicated father and charitable community member, fearless but humble.

These are but a few of the ways that friends and family described Mark Bixby on Friday during a memorial service attended by close to 500 people at the U.S. Sailing Center on Ocean Boulevard at Bayshore Avenue.

During the service, which began with a bike ride and ended with a paddle-out, speakers described Bixby as a rare breed, a man of boundless energy, unlimited optimism and compassion, and an inspirational drive to learn and succeed.

Bixby seemed to be a little bit of everything to everybody around him throughout his 44 years of life, which ended March 16 in the crash of a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air turboprop plane at Long Beach Airport that also killed four other people on board.

The airplane had been bound for Salt Lake City, near which Bixby and his friends were planning to go skiing. The sport was just one of many that Bixby enjoyed - others included bicycling, surfing and scuba diving - in his mission to experience all that he could.

"He always taught you to live your life to the fullest," Bixby's daughter Jessica, 13, recalled Friday. "He was always trying to learn something new every day."

Bixby is also survived by his wife, Theresa; his other children, Ryan, 16, and Kirra, 15; his mother Betsy Bixby Steen; his brothers Grant and Brett; and other relatives.

Always seeking adventure

His cousin, Dina Zeckhausen-Drose, said she recalls that when Bixby and his family visited her family in New Hampshire, every morning he was up early planning a new adventure for the children.

"In Mark's world, vacation was not for vegging out," Zeckhausen-Drose said. "It was for experiencing and learning and singing and creating memories."

Bixby lived the same way in his educational, professional and civic life.

He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Duke University and received a master's degree in real estate development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to work for his family's company, the Bixby Land Co., and was involved in the management of more than $500 million worth of real estate transactions, according to a biography written by Bixby himself.

Cyclists listen as Port of Long Beach Commissioner Mario Cordero, La Habra Cyclist Martin Howard and Long Beach Councilwomen Suja Lowenthal, right to left
Cyclists listen as Port of Long Beach Commissioner Mario Cordero, La Habra Cyclist Martin Howard and Long Beach Councilwomen Suja Lowenthal, right to left on the ledge at right, dedicate a bike path to be built on the new bridge in the memory of the Mark Bixby, who died in a plane crash on March 16th. (Diandra Jay/Press-Telegram)

At the time of his death, he was working in real estate for Pacific Retail Partners, and his boss and friend, Mike Jensen, was the sole survivor of the plane crash. Jensen is listed in serious but stable condition at the UC Irvine Regional Burn Center in Orange.

Bixby's professional career barely scratches the surface of his impact on Long Beach and Southern California. He was just as dedicated to improving and giving back to his community, friends and family said.

Cycling advocate

Bixby was perhaps best known for his bicycle advocacy, and he helped create the city's Bicycle Master Plan and founded the Long Beach Bike Festival. He also recently pushed for the creation of bicycle lanes on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge that is being planned.

Bixby served as president of the Rotary Club of Long Beach and was instrumental in raising money to build Rotary's Centennial Park at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Junipero Avenue. He also chaired the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Camping Services Board for three years, and was involved in many of his children's activities and organizations.

Many of the qualities for which Bixby was lauded were passed down by his father, Llewellyn Bixby, and it was the tragic death of his father at the very same age that helped him mature quickly as a boy and shape his outlook on life, several speakers said Friday.

"I believe the pain he experienced and the love he received taught him to reach out to others," said Denny Steen, Mark Bixby's stepfather.

His aunt, Jean Bixby Smith, noted "uncanny" similarities between Bixby and his father, who died of cancer in 1979. Both were tall, handsome, intelligent and dedicated to Long Beach.

Another aunt, Barbara Bixby Blackwell, read a passage from Llewellyn Bixby's eulogy that she said applies just as much to the younger Bixby.

"Born with a famous California name, he added prestige and honor to that name," she said.

The Bixby family was one of Long Beach's founding families more than a century ago and once owned massive tracts of ranching land throughout Long Beach, Orange County and other parts of the region. The Bixby Knolls neighborhood in Long Beach is named for the family.

The two-hour memorial service ended not in tears, though many were certainly shed during the day, but with a thunderous round of applause in celebration of Bixby's life. Toward the end, his brother Grant reflected on how Bixby would have handled the death of one so near and dear.

"Mark would learn from this," his brother said. "He would take stock of his life and commit himself to improvement."

Paul.eakins@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1278