Farewell to Booth Gardner

Saturday's memorial service for the former governor spurs feelings of hope and thanks.
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Booth Gardner

Saturday's memorial service for the former governor spurs feelings of hope and thanks.

Several hundred friends and family bade goodbye on Saturday to former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who died on March 15 after many years fighting Parkinson's Disease. Gardner was 76.
It was a perfect spring day on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Outside the fieldhouse where the memorial service was held students were engaged in the sports events Gardner loved. 
The state's political community was well represented. Former governors of both political parties, Sen. Maria Cantwell, former Rep. Norm Dicks, Rep. Denny Heck, former Gov. Chris Gregoire and present Gov. Jay Inslee sat in the front rows. The crowd also included people whose lives had crossed Gardner's over many years, and in many ways.
Gregoire got her start working for Gardner in state government. Heck had been his gubernatorial chief of staff. Both choked up as they shared remembrances of their former boss. Gardner's brother Bill Clapp told how he idolized his older brother. But the stars of the day, by far, were Gardner's grandchildren. 
Grandson Henry Nettleton sang. Granddaughters Jessica and Emily Gardner delivered the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. His oldest grandson, Jack Nettleton, talked about the lifelong mutual love between himself and his grandfather, who was his role model. (Heck remarked that he was pleased Jack lived in a congressional district with a Republican incumbent.)
Gardner, in two terms as governor, took landmark actions in health, environmental and education policy, and on behalf of women's and gay rights. At local and state levels, he never lost an election. He was ambitious, as most politicians are, but connected so effectively with voters because they could immediately sense his good will and integrity.

I knew and periodically spent time with Gardner over 35 years. In all that time, I never doubted that in all things he wanted to do the right thing and that, above all, he was devoted to justice for the left out and left-behind in society.
A few days before Gardner's memorial, we lost former Seattle city councilwoman and school-board member Cheryl Chow and Blair Butterworth, a Democratic campaign consultant. I had known Butterworth's father, W. Walton Butterworth, during his time as an ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service. It occurred to me at Saturday's memorial that Cheryl Chow and Blair Butterworth shared Gardner's higher aspirations for their community, and also saw politics as a way to serve.
This is an especially cynical and angry time in American politics. But as I surveyed the hundreds in attendance at the UPS fieldhouse on Saturday, I was reassured about the fundamental character of our own state's politics. The notables sitting in the front rows, and those jamming the rows behind, represented the decency and high mindedness which still underlie public life here. All is not lost, I thought. This is still a good place, with a core group of good people who remain motivated by something beyond themselves.  
Not the least of Booth Gardner's contributions was Washington's Death With Dignity law. His own long and arduous illness gave urgency to his efforts on its behalf. Leaving Saturday's service, I thought: Thank you, Booth. For what you did and for being both true to yourself and to the rest of us. 

Well done.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.