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Shirley Bartholomew, Snohomish County icon, dies at 84

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By Bill Sheets
Herald Writer
  • Shirley Bartholomew sits in her office as a Snohomish County councilwoman in the 1980s.

    Photo courtesy Snohomish County

    Shirley Bartholomew sits in her office as a Snohomish County councilwoman in the 1980s.

ARLINGTON -- Shirley Bartholomew, a former Snohomish County councilwoman and longtime reporter for KRKO radio, died Sunday. She was 84.
Bartholomew was remembered as a thorough, hardworking reporter and public servant by those who knew her. Bartholomew also served on the Marysville City Council in her later years.
She never married or had children, said her niece, Gina Wade-Whitaker of Mill Creek.
"Her whole life was about news and politics and she loved it right until the very end," she said.
"She had a very interesting life, very happy and always wanted to talk about things."
Bartholomew died peacefully in her sleep Sunday morning, said Sparky Taft, whose family owned KRKO for 35 years. About a year ago, she moved from her rented house in downtown Marysville -- known for having many Republican yard signs in front of it -- to Cascade Valley Senior Living in Arlington, her niece said.
She lived for years with diabetes but her death was not expected, those close to her said.
"The day before, she was in great spirits, talking to everybody," Wade-Whitaker said.
Born and raised in Marysville, Bartholomew started working at the Marysville Globe newspaper right out of high school, said Sim Wilson, whose family owned the Globe at the time.
"She was a lot of fun. She was very, very energetic," said Wilson, who went on to serve in the state Legislature from 1972 to 1992.
During World War II, when many men were taken out of the work force by the military, she went work for KRKO. She was a dedicated reporter who often worked 10- to 12-hour days, those who knew her said.
"She was all business but she had a great sense of humor," said Taft, now 67. "She had a nose for news."
Bartholomew carried a police-and-fire scanner with her wherever she went -- a habit that would continue the rest of her life -- and was always chasing after calls, Taft said.
"She was probably the first one behind every fire wagon or cop car in the county," Wilson said. "She literally knew where the bodies were buried. She was very well-known and knew everybody."
In 1980, she became part of the first-ever Snohomish County Council when it shifted from a commissioner form of government.
"She was a very kind, good person. She didn't like contentious situations," said County Council spokesman Fred Bird, who worked with her at the county. "If we were having a contentious issue before the council she just might not show up for that hearing."
Considered a moderate Republican, Bartholomew served until the end of 1989, when she was defeated by Democrat Ross Kane. John Garner, a good friend of Bartholomew's, later defeated Kane.

"She was so very sharp politically," said Garner, who still lives in Marysville. "She was way ahead of whoever she was dealing with on a political basis."
Bartholomew was appointed to the Marysville council in 1994 and served through 2000. Her expertise from the county came in handy in Marysville and she kept the staff on their toes, city administrator Mary Swenson said.
"No nonsense," she said. "You knew that you had to be prepared when you came with something because she'd ask you all sorts of questions."
City Councilwoman Donna Wright served with Bartholomew.
"We always knew where she stood," she said. "The news reporter in her always came out. She would ask questions like a reporter would, to help in making decisions, and even to educate us, in what her opinion was. Fiscally conservative."
City spokesman Doug Buell formed a friendship with Bartholomew while she was on the council. They endlessly talked world travel -- she had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro -- and politics, he said. She always had books and magazines to offer and always had CNN on at her house, Buell said.
"She had so much charm and political acumen, you just didn't want to let that get away," he said. "She was just a great person."
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or

Shirley Bartholomew
n Born: Marysville, Jan. 26, 1924
n Died: Arlington, Nov. 2, 2008
n Graduated from Marysville High School
n News director at KRKO radio in Everett from 1943 to 1980
n Earned five Associated Press National Awards and was a two-time winner of the AP Managing Editors Citation
n Received the Outstanding Contribution Award from Washington State Press Women in 1968 and 1980
n First female broadcaster named to the Edward R. Murrow-Washington Hall of Fame, 1980
n Snohomish County councilwoman from 1981 to 1989; council chairwoman from 1987 to 1988
n Marysville City Council member from 1994 to 2001
Story tags » ArlingtonEverettMarysvilleCounty Council

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