LAKE STEVENS — During her first term in office, Rep. Karla Wilson, D-Lake Stevens, made the front page of the Seattle P-I in a photo of her kicked back at her desk on the floor “taking 40 winks in a break from the budget action in Olympia.”
It showed how hard she worked during her six years in the 39th Legislative district from 1985 to 1991.
Wilson died on Dec. 31. She was 88.
Education was her lifelong passion.
She taught special education at Lake Stevens schools, going beyond the classroom to take students on camping trips. She was an administrator at Everett Community College for Running Start, a program for high school students that she helped pass while in state office.
“Karla Wilson was a smart, energetic legislator from the Lake Stevens area who brought a keen perspective to the transportation challenges that existed in Snohomish County during that time period,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in an email statement. “And she was right — we needed more investment, and we still need more investment.”
Wilson grew up in Lake Stevens, back when it was a sleepy town with a big lake. After graduating from Everett High School, she earned a full ride to Vassar College in New York. She finished at the University of Washington with undergraduate and graduate degrees. She and her husband, Bill, had three daughters and were foster parents.
Her daughter, Jill Sundin, said her mom welcomed the challenges of politics.
“She was kind of vocal and this was back in the ’80s and I don’t think there were that many women in the Legislature,” Sundin said. “She was told by some man that freshmen were to be seen but not heard and that she had used up all her time on the floor. They wanted her to be quiet and that doesn’t bode well with my mom.”
According to “1984-1993: The Era of Leadership” on the state government website: “By 1982 women comprised 23 percent of the total legislative membership with 35 members. The women serving today are different than their early counterparts. They are more like their male colleagues: younger, better educated, with professional and business backgrounds.”
Sundin said her mom “loved adventure, golf, bridge, dancing, and was known for her Swedish knickabrod (cracker).”
Wilson lived in Palm Springs after retiring. She moved to an assisted living center near Sundin in East Wenatchee in June 2022 due to a stroke that paralyzed her on one side.
She rang in 2023 early, when the New Year’s Eve celebration at the center was held on Friday instead of Saturday.
“When I went to visit her on Friday she was at the party. They were having a glass of wine and a cookie,” Sundin said.
“I was dancing with her in the wheelchair. After a while she was determined to stand up and dance. I helped her under her arms. We danced together.”
A celebration of life will be held in the spring, with more dancing.
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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