Seattle-based political consultant Blair Butterworth, a high-profile figure in Washington state politics, died after an illness on March 29, 2013. He was known for his wit, passion and highly quotable insights into city and state politics. The big names he worked with included Dixy Lee Ray, Warren G. Magnuson, Gary Locke, Mike Lowry, Paul Schell and Jim McDermott. He helped found the League of Education Voters and pass the Death with Dignity Act with Booth Gardner. Butterworth can't attend his own memorial service, which will be held Sunday, April 21, 10:30 a.m. at Town Hall, but he did like to have the last word. So, before he died, he authored this final op/ed in which he expresses his gratitude to his adoptive state, and makes a plea for our future. — Crosscut Contributor, Knute Berger
Love at first sight. That’s the only way to describe my first visit to Seattle in 1965.
I was a fresh-faced kid out of college, the Peace Corps and now working in the U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson had brought me out here for a great opportunity as regional supervisor of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and I was getting the grand tour from the Senator himself.
As we drove around town, Magnuson told me how important this new gig was and how, if I did things right, my name would be up in lights. Then just at that moment, in mock amazement, he points outside and exclaims, “Wait! Your name is already up in lights!” As we drove past Butterworth Funeral Home (no relation), I realized I was on the receiving end of a well-timed practical joke. The driver smiled and nodded at Maggie, who of course was busy laughing at me.
From that moment on, I’ve loved this place. Seattle and our state are synonymous with hopeful possibilities, civic aspiration and the ability to laugh at ourselves. Now, in contrast to the symbolic comic suggestiveness of that drive-by joke so long ago, I find myself at the real end of my life. And I realize that before I leave, I’d like to express my gratitude.
On that first visit, I was powerfully struck by the sheer physical beauty of our state. So many wonderful natural attractions, such a variety of outdoor activities. In the wake of the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle was also a vibrant model of civic achievement. But it was more than these things.
Beyond what lay all around me as I explored every corner of Seattle and our state, was what I found within the people here. I was welcomed, included and accepted. Me, an East Coast nomad who’d never known any other permanent address besides “c/o.” I was finally and unequivocally home.
Here I found a remarkable, open-minded diversity of thought, interests and people. A rich environment for meaningful civic dialogue. A conviction that such meaningful dialogue is both precursor to and stimulus for action and progress. Here I found a generosity of spirit, where I would be judged not as an outsider, but by my competence, merit, work and humanity. I knew this was where I belonged. And a few years later, as I proudly shared our area’s wonders with visiting friend Bill Moyers, we were both struck by the fact that this nomadic outsider had become a Northwest native through and through.
As I forayed into Washington state politics, the unique ethos of my new home opened doors to all kinds of adventures and mischief. I met Dixy Lee Ray in the small trailer where she lived at the time. Over a bottle of scotch, we held an hours-long political discussion — well, okay, it was more of a yelling match. Somehow, in spite of the angrily high decibel-levels, I wound up running her successful campaign for governor a few months later — and Dixy became the first woman to be elected governor of any state. In the next election, I saw again just how open my new home could be when I worked for Jim McDermott for Governor and we defeated Dixy in the primary election.
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