Unequivocally home: Blair Butterworth's open letter to Washington state

The late political consultant was committed to civic greatness until the end. Here, his last letter to the state he so loved.
The late Blair Butterworth.

The late Blair Butterworth. Photo: Blair Butterworth/ Facebook.

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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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 19, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Blair, for your friendship & wisdom. You never knew it, but I looked to you as a father figure, and your discussions with me on parenting my boys have been a beacon to me.

Timothy

Posted Fri, Apr 19, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

It's a shame the place the late Mr. Butterworth describes no longer exists.

orino

Posted Fri, Apr 19, 3:05 p.m. Inappropriate

What a moving, and worthwhile read. His reflections on becoming a NW native pluck the heartstrings of this adopted NW native of 40 years.

Thank you for all you did, Blair, and thank you for letting us know where you think things could use fixing.

Posted Sat, Apr 20, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Blair told me once how he had struggled in the early days to get work in Seattle. Then he was invited to a session of the Seattle Chowder Society, held in Ibsen Nelsen's house on Capitol Hill (I was there, too). He was inspired by the young activists he heard there, such as David Hancocks and his plans to transform Seattle's Zoo. And he started meeting the people who would come to value his political advice. He particularly thanked a young activist named Paul Schell for inviting Blair to that session.

Years later, grateful for his experience and wanting to replicate it for a new generation breaking into politics, he and I tried to start a new Chowder Society. Didn't work this time. But it was typical of Blair to keep on hoping for a vibrant civic life.

Posted Mon, Apr 22, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Great letter - typical of Blair being concerned about solving problems in our state. Blair was the principal consultant in our effort to find a solution to the spiraling costs of WPPSS in the late 70's and early 80's. He helped us run a successful campaign to pass Initiative 394 the Don't Bankrupt Washington effort that still requires a public vote before bonds can be issued to construct large public power plants in our state.
I remember at the time Blair commenting that it wasn't going to make him any friends with the powers that thought they ran things but he felt it was the right thing to do. Too often it seems people endlessly second guess whether or not they can win or who might be upset with your actions.
Blair was one of those who acted as his conscience dictated rather than trying to calculate whether or not it would help him get more business or if it was a difficult campaign.. He seemed to relish a good fight and loved the challenge. He will be sorely missed.

Posted Tue, Apr 23, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, Blair loved Washington. However, before he arrived there, I want everybody to know, he greatly influenced a young person Pa .-and I'm certain many other places. As has been noted, Blair acted on his beliefs -not just the odds of winning or concern big money or powers might be unhappy . Anybody fortunate enough to spend time around Blair had a great opportunity to learn so many things. In addition to his expertise, it was abundantly clear that it is always important to follow your passion ,working for improvements and equality ,because it makes our nation stronger and each improvement adds to a better future for all-current generations and those to come. Unfortunately, nationally, cost cutting is slashing the very programs needed to remain a competitive economic force. First and foremost, we must always remember if we fail our children ,permitting education to be underfunded , we have made their future far more difficult. Please, everybody , in his honor , continue to work and be heard.

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