By Jerry Cornfield Herald Columnist
Booth Gardner left an indelible imprint on the lives of Washington residents as governor years before he brought immeasurable dignity to a conversation on dying and death.
In the eight years Gardner steered the state, he visited every corner of every county, befriending thousands with a personable and genuine demeanor that is a common thread in the tales getting retold, retooled and, yes, even a touch lionized since his passing.
He wanted, as much as any chief executive could, to hang out with people rather than pols. Routinely he did it minus his security detail, the most visual encumbrance of executive power, whom he ditched so routinely you wondered if it wasn’t by design.
Gardner became renowned for showing up unannounced at cubicles of state employees or in offices of private employers simply to chat about what they were doing as well as what he was doing.
There were literally no closed doors for the governor. Not even here at The Herald.
“Governor Gardner delighted in showing up very early in the morning, before business hours, (without his security detail) so that when I would arrive he would be sitting in my office chair, reading The Herald,” former publisher Larry Hanson shared in an email.
“With that wry smile of his he would say, ‘It’s about time you showed up for work. Shall I pour you a cup of coffee so we can talk about another important state issue?’” he wrote.
It happened several times, and the men became close friends.
“After the first time that happened I asked him how he was able to enter the building when it was locked,” Hanson recalled. “He said with a smile, ‘I’m Governor!’”
Gardner’s friendships in Snohomish County grew large through the years, including a handful whose political acumen helped propel him into office.
In early 1983, U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Everett championed Gardner’s potential as governor. After the senator died that fall, Jackson insider Ron Dotzauer recalled getting asked to manage Gardner’s campaign “because Scoop wanted him to be governor.”
Dotzauer, who lived in Edmonds at the time, had worked for Jackson and managed his final Senate campaign. When he met Gardner in November 1983, any reluctance at carrying out Scoop’s wish quickly evaporated.
“I liked him so much. I did it,” said Dotzauer, a Snohomish resident today and founder of Strategies 360 consulting firm.
In the ensuing 30 years, the two knit a tight friendship.
Gardner, a talented woodworker, built a cabinet for Dotzauer and his wife. When the governor visited, the two sometimes headed to Gerry Andal’s Ranch Restaurant in Everett for dinner because he “loved to go and listen to Gerry sing,” Dotzauer said.
Bob Drewel dined with the governor there too, though the two men forged their bond under much different circumstances.
Drewel was serving as president of Everett Community College when a fire in February 1987 destroyed the campus library and claimed the life of firefighter Gary Parks. “Booth called me the day of the fire and said he would do anything he possibly could to help,” Drewel said.
Gardner’s pledge proved more than words.
He came to the campus at least six times that year, including for the firefighter’s memorial. He helped secure funding to rebuild the facility and three of the visits were to check on the progress of construction. “I thanked him every day I saw him,” said Drewel who speaks of the experience as if it happened yesterday.
That’s a testimony to the lasting power of Gardner’s imprint on Washington.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A public memorial service for the late Gov. Booth Gardner will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 30 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.