Tacoma businessman James Wiborg – ‘energy in motion’ – dies at 90

James “Jim” Wiborg was a successful businessman, a teacher and a amateur physicist.

“That was his thing,” said his son, John Wiborg. “He was energy in motion, it seemed.”

The elder Wiborg died Aug. 1 at the age of 90.

In 1953, he started Western Plastics, which became the largest plastics pipe company on the West Coast.

As president of United Pacific Co. in 1966, he helped merge the company with Van Waters & Rogers to create Univar, which was listed on the New York Stock Exchange and became the world’s biggest chemical distribution company.

Wiborg also served on boards for Seattle First National Bank, Paccar, Univar, Westin Hotels, Gensco, Northern Life Insurance and others.

Many remember him as an excellent mentor and teacher in business.

“I think he was very pleased with the record of Western Plastics,” said John Dimmer Sr., who was president of the company for 20 years. “We went from $189,000 in sales to $47 million.”

He recalled taking a car ride with Wiborg one day, not knowing where they were going. When Wiborg said he was going to get a haircut, Dimmer was surprised he’d do that on company time.

“He looked at me and said, ‘John, my hair grows on company time,’” Dimmer remembered, laughing.

Wiborg funded the Wiborg Physics Faculty Lab at the University of Puget Sound, and was a trustee at the school for 30 years.

The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties and the Tacoma Art Museum are among other organizations he supported.

“As a family, they’re just incredibly generous philanthropists,” said Margy McGroarty, a former head of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.

Outside of work, Wiborg was an amateur astronomer and enjoyed physics.

He developed a theory about space, time and inertia that he self-published, predicting that subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass.

His work later was referenced by some in the physics community, his son said.

“When we’d vacation, he’d work on his math and physics so he could describe his theory,” the younger Wiborg said, remembering the many projects his dad did around the house and on his property.

“Super-high-energy guy. He was just a weekend warrior like crazy.”

Memorial service

A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 15) at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 909 N. J St.


Contributions can be made to the James H. Wiborg Memorial Fund at the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, in lieu of flowers.