Public life is often a lonely, thankless vocation. Half the battle is navigating the thicket of special interests and managing to get elected. Once elected, the hope is to insulate from the pressure-group sway, putting the public interest first. No easy feat, that.
Jean Berkey, who died Aug. 21, thought of herself as a lawmaker in the public interest. Unlike many of her colleagues, she was not a career politician, but was appointed to fill the House seat of her friend, the late Pat Scott, in 2000. Anchored by a clear-eyed career before entering the circus of elected life, Berkey could distinguish harmony from noise. Experience begets wisdom. Berkey was in her early 60s and already had lived a life in full before trekking to Olympia.
After graduating from Everett High School and Everett Community College, she worked as an account clerk at General Telephone and served as a labor council delegate. As The Herald’s Sharon Salyer reports, Berkey was the first female recipient of an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers scholarship to the University of Washington, where she graduated in 1974 with a degree in business administration.
Her focus was community-centric. At various times, Berkey served as an Everett Community College trustee, as well as a board member for the Snohomish County United Way and the Medic One Foundation. She also was a recipient of the Everett Community College Distinguished Alumni award.
We are judged by the company we keep. One of Berkey’s closest friends, Carl Gipson, Sr., is a testament to service above self. Gipson, namesake of the Everett Senior Center, served on the center’s foundation board with Berkey. “Her work and dedication to the foundation was, without a doubt, extraordinary,” Gipson told The Herald. As Rep. Mike Sells notes, Berkey was “a stalwart in area politics.” Berkey did the envelope stuffing, the phone-banking, the parade advancing, the invaluable, often tedious leg work that propels a campaign. In the pre-social media era, Berkey joined forces with a formidable crew of Democratic women who were the gatekeepers, the galvanizing power in Democratic circles. Women like Liz McLaughlin, Betty Bagley, and Jan Mahlum. Berkey was the last survivor, and her passing marks a sea change, just as “moderate Democrat” and “moderate Republican” sound like oxymorons.
Politics was simpler once, and perhaps more honest. Jean Berkey made whole the promise of a life of service to the people of Everett and Snohomish County. She needs to be remembered.
A memorial service for Jean Berkey is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in the Weyerhaeuser Room at Everett Station, 3201 Smith Avenue.