Gardner’s public, and private, empathy

I first met Booth Gardner in the spring of 1984, a few months after I had been named publisher of The Everett Herald. He had called to ask to meet with me to explain why he had decided to run for governor against Republican Gov. John Spellman and why he would appreciate our editorial endorsement.

We met and I was immediately impressed with his grasp of the issues and his passion for the job. He was the underdog in the campaign. We were one of the first newspapers to endorse him. He won with 53 percent of the vote.

In addition to the professional relationship we established, a unique friendship developed between Gov. Gardner and my wife, Raili, and me. Over the years one of the special conversations we often had was how he was dealing with his Parkinson’s disease and the treatments he was having or considering.

Ironically, two months after my wife and I retired she was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Now there would be more to talk about on that subject. And Booth had more knowledge to share since he helped spearhead the formation of the Booth Gardner Parkinson Center in affiliation with Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland.

In 2008, Booth launched what he called his last major political campaign, “Death with Dignity.” That spring Booth called to ask if we would host a reception in our home for 25-30 Snohomish County leaders. He wanted to explain the initiative, answer questions and get feedback.

He made his presentation with strong arguments and great passion. The only difference from earlier campaigns was that his spoken words were more labored and difficult for him to deliver. We could see how frustrating that was to him. But he did it with dignity and a smile.

By 10 p.m. our guests had left. Booth, knowing that my wife’s Parkinson’s had begun to spiral more quickly downward, walked over and sat down next to her. He put his arm around her, looked her in the eye and said, “How is it really going, Raili?”

After they talked for a while he said, “Are you ready for a second opinion?” She said, “yes.” Booth told her that a person from the Booth Gardner Parkinson Center would call her in the morning to make an appointment to see Dr. Monique Giroux. He assured Raili that she was one of the best in the country. At 8 o’clock the next morning our phone rang. It was the scheduler.

He said that Gov. Gardner had called him at home at 6 a.m. to make sure that the appointment would be made ASAP. It was. Booth didn’t leave it at that, he regularly checked in with us to make sure that Raili was getting the best treatment possible.

After my bride of 50 years died, two and a half years ago, Booth was one of the first to call to express his condolences.

When I heard the news of Booth’s passing, all of those meaningful conversations came flooding back: The hopeful treatments, the many challenges and the determination to fight on as best they could. My friend put up a great fight and helped so many others do the same. God bless Booth Gardner.

Larry Hanson is Publisher Emeritus of The Everett Herald. Reprinted by permission of

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