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Remembering the Rosellini years

At 99, the former Governor still drives his Cadillac and works at "The Governor Rosellini Suite." Here's a short reminiscence.

Former Governor Albert D. Rosellini this week celebrated his 99th birthday, showing no signs of slowing down. He's played an important part in Washington political history, so I thought it would help readers if I dusted off a profile I wrote for the December 1999 issue of Washington Athletic Club magazine.

From 1957-1965, Rosellini was the Governor, and as a young girl growing up in Snohomish County, Rosellini was a household name, so I was looking forward to meeting "my governor" for the very first time, interviewing him for this story.

"Nice to meet you, governor," I said, shaking Rosellini's hand. For the next hour we talked about his life and times. As the only son of Italian immigrants, Rosellini grew up in Tacoma with his three sisters. He learned Italian before he spoke English, and times were tough and lean. But the young Rosellini thrived, graduating from the University of Washington Law School. Armed with a paycheck of $185/month from his job with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Rosellini joined the Washington Athletic Club in 1935. He had been active in sports all his life, boxing and playing basketball at his local YMCA, but the 25-year-old needed a place to stay in shape during those Depression Days as he called them.

"I was single then, and went to the club every night," said Rosellini. The six-foot center played basketball and handball, and has fond memories of intramural games with the Multonomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon. Rosellini recalls enjoying cocktails and dancing to the Gene Boscacci Trio at the WAC with his wife Ethel. And although he doesn't go there for workouts anymore, the Rosellinis still enjoy having dinner at the club. "It's a wonderful place," he said.

Rosellini has not hung up his law degree. Five days a week, he navigates his older-model Cadillac convertible from his Windermere home to his office in South Seattle. That's where he does legal and political consulting out of a two-room office dubbed The Governor Rosellini Suite.

Walking into his space is somewhat of a time warp. On the walls are pictures of the Governor with such noteworthy people as Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra. And there are roses, roses everywhere, even on his business cards and tie. The Roses for Rosellini theme began when he was campaigning, and people wanted to know how to pronounce his last name. "It's ROSE-a-lini, not ROSS-a-lini!" said the ex-Governor. The American Rose Society even named a rose after him. "Jack Kennedy had one at The White House," said Rosellini.

So what was it like becoming governor of the state? "I was happier for my parents than for myself at my inauguration," said Rosellini. And he's also proud of his family, which includes three daughters, two sons, and 15 grandchildren. And Ethel, his wife of 62 years. The family likes to spend time at their Vashon Island summer home they bought in 1940. Appropriately, they live on Governor's Lane, next door to former Gov. Booth Gardner.

Rosellini limits his requests for public appearances these days, focusing on two charity golf tournaments he hosts and raising money for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs. Rosellini was also instrumental in starting the Former Governors Luncheon in 1997, and out of that evolved The Gathering of Governors in Olympia, an annual fundraising event attended by Washington's former governors and select guests.

So what about Gov. Gary Locke? Rosellini says the two Democrats have a real bond, and uncanny similarities. They share the same birthday (January 21), and Locke is exactly 40 years younger than Rosellini. Both were inaugurated at the age of 46. And they are the only two governors in the state that came from immigrant parents.

But of course Locke doesn't have a bridge named after him.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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