A life of passion and service

For Drew Nielsen, life was an active pursuit. In work and in play, he was a doer. And a difference maker.

The difference he made in his hometown of Everett — as a citizen activist, and later as a leader on the City Council — was both obvious and subtle. His strongly deliberative style, which included thorough research and an ever-ready willingness to ask tough questions, made city government better.

His desire to make Everett a better place to live proved itself a powerful force two decades ago, when he fought successfully for land in his North Everett neighborhood to become a park rather a parking lot. That experience helped launch him toward higher levels of public service.

A picture of physical fitness, Nielsen could often be seen walking or bicycling around town. In December, Herald Writer Debra Smith told readers of his most passionate pastime: river rafting. That story noted how Nielsen and his wife, Kim, had been married the previous summer on the Navajo Bridge over the Grand Canyon, and then embarked on a 225-mile rafting adventure down the Colorado River.

Drew Nielsen died doing what he loved. He perished in a rafting accident Saturday on the Green River in King County. It’s a shocking loss for his family, for his wide network of friends and supporters, and for the city he so loved. At age 61, he still had much to give.

But much can continue to be learned, and emulated, from how Nielsen approached life.

When others were content to sit by, Nielsen stepped forward. After serving as president of the Council of Neighborhoods, he brought that experience and his training as a land-use attorney to the city planning commission. From there he won an appointment to the City Council in 2004, and was later elected three times.

His was a leading voice on the City Council. Few who have served have worked harder. Nielsen did his homework, and never shied away from asking sharp questions, or crossing political swords over an issue he believed in. But he did so calmly — at least on the surface.

Even on the rare occasion when anger got the best of him, civility wasn’t far away. He once asked to withdraw a relatively mildly worded letter to the editor, one that took issue with criticism made by this editorial board, after worrying his language might have been “a bit intemperate.”

Nielsen was tough but constructive, in the best tradition of local politics. He cared deeply about the city he grew up in, and spent the best years of his life making it a better place.

He stands as a model for how to live life to its fullest.