EVERETT — City leader. Activist. Attorney. Family man. Friend.
Hundreds of people came together Sunday at the Everett Transit Station to share memories of Drew Nielsen, the 61-year-old Everett city councilman who died May 12 in a rafting accident.
They shared laughter, memories and, at times, tears.
“He was a fine human being,” said long-time friend and Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Larry McKeeman. “I treasure all the moments I had with him. He was a good man and he will be missed.”
The many condolences at the memorial service included a letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire, who praised Nielsen for embracing life “with passion and purpose.”
His wife, Kim Nielsen, stood in the center of the room, absorbing every story, every word shared about her husband’s life.
Friends and family stood around her, helping her shoulder a mountain of grief too heavy for any one person.
“He had many friends and few enemies,” City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher told those gathered. “And he took care of those friendships. He always had time for a beer or coffee — a martini would be even better.”
He was a natural storyteller, who possessed wit and intelligence with a bit of absent-minded-professor thrown in. And he was competitive.
“In his final moments, I bet he was mad at the river for beating him,” she said.
On a giant screen behind the podium, photos of Nielsen scrolled: a young bearded father with his sons, the skilled oarsman at the helm of a raft, the outdoorsman on a backpacking trip.
Ed Frazier of McMinnville, Ore., described his friend as a gadget lover. He held up Nielsen’s pocket knife, loaded with an impossible number of doodads and tools.
“That’s how he lived life,” Frazier said.
Dave Koenig, a city employee, watched Nielsen progress from a citizen activist to neighborhood leader, planning commissioner and finally, city councilman.
Nielsen wanted to make Everett a better place to live and work, and he became a passionate advocate for public access to the water, Koenig said.
As a city leader, he treated the people he served with respect and dignity.
“He always did his homework,” Koenig said. “He challenged staff by being prepared and asking tough questions. He made us better.”
Nielsen, a real estate attorney, first got into politics in the early 1990s when he learned a hospital planned to turn some lots near his house on 13th street into a parking lot.
He convinced the hospital to donate the land for a park. Then he helped build it.
He began serving on the City Council in 2004, and was re-elected to his third term last fall.
“I think Drew was so popular with people in Everett because they knew he was a hometown boy,” said friend and neighbor Tim Knopf. “He was for the people and the people knew that. He had the vision and enthusiasm to make Everett a better place.”
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org