Influential Boeing lobbyist Coffey dies at 86

SEATTLE — Boeing’s former chief lobbyist Forrest “Bud” Coffey has died at age 86.

Coffey was remembered as a legendary lobbyist who influenced state policy on taxes, transportation, labor, education and the environment.

He also worked to keep both the Mariners and the Seahawks in Seattle by lobbying for new stadiums for the teams.

A family friend confirmed his death on Dec. 19 in Tacoma.

Coffey grew up in Kansas, joined the Navy after high school and then attended Wichita State University for two years before starting work at Boeing in 1948 at age 21.

He eventually moved from Kansas to the Pacific Northwest, where he worked his way up to become the company’s vice president of government affairs. He started lobbying for Boeing in Olympia in 1971, where he stayed for nearly a quarter century.

“Bud was kind of a legend — a larger-than-life kind of person,” said Randy Hodgins, vice president of external affairs at the University of Washington. Hodgins worked his way up to staff director of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the Legislature in the ’90s, allowing him to witness Coffey make a name for himself.

“Part of Bud’s legacy was because of the company he represented, but part of it was just Bud — the kind of person he was.” Hodgins said.

Al Ralston, who worked with Coffey at Boeing for more than 10 years and then took his place when he retired, called Coffey the father of modern government relations at the company.

He taught his team to arrive early and stay late, meet lawmakers for coffee and stay and speak with the last person out the door.

“When people only see you when you need a favor, you don’t have much of a chance of being successful,” said Paul Seely, a Boeing lobbyist who worked for Coffey in Olympia for nearly 15 years. “Bud knew that and taught us that.”

After retiring from Boeing in 1995, Coffey played an integral role in keeping the Mariners in Seattle and building Safeco Field.

King County voters rejected a proposed tax package for the Mariners stadium in 1995, so Coffey brought together then-Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, then-King County Executive Gary Locke and then-Gov. Mike Lowry and didn’t leave Olympia until a special legislative session started.

The Legislature authorized some state funding and an increase in King County taxes on restaurant and bar bills and rental cars, as well as a 10 percent admission tax on events at the new ballpark.

In 1997, Coffey did it again with Qwest Field. Billionaire Paul Allen agreed to buy the Seahawks from then-owner Ken Behring as long as the public voted to help finance the new stadium.

Coffey is remembered as a behind-the-scenes man, staying out of the media.

“He was very humble that way,” then-Boeing lobbyist Ralston said. “He was the technician, not the mouthpiece or the out-front person.”

Coffey’s wife of 36 years, Shirley, said he didn’t want the attention on himself.

“He was quiet and unassuming, but he had a reputation for getting it done,” she said.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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