Jackson remembered as a man who never forgot ordinary people

When it comes to Scoop Jackson, memories abound.

There’s his resounding baritone voice in a chorus of Christmas carolers, his appetite for lutefisk and his habit of putting a saucer atop his coffee cup to keep the contents warm.

Remember his beater cars? Plenty do. They also remember that the sight of him behind the wheel made them nervous because he had a reputation as a less-than-stellar driver, though there’s no clear evidence why.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of Henry M. Jackson’s birth in Everett, civic leaders are throwing a bash at which family and friends will talk about his feats and foibles. The free community celebration begins at 4 p.m. in the conference center of Comcast Arena.

Most often, whether one orbited in the constellation of Jackson’s daily life or crossed his path for a fleeting moment, the recollections are of a man ever willing to do the tiny things that made a huge difference in the lives of individuals.

“What Scoop understood is there is no legacy,” said Al Ratner, a Cleveland, Ohio, businessman and longtime Jackson confidant. “It is only the people you touch. What more could you hope for?”

* * *

Jackson could make things happen with a single call or one conversation.

For Dr. Christian Schmitt, a kidney specialist, Jackson’s influence paved the way for creation of the Puget Sound Kidney Center.

When the German native arrived in Everett in 1977, his dialysis patients had to travel to the Northwest Kidney Center in Seattle for care. Schmitt wanted to open a treatment facility in Everett and found his efforts opposed by the Seattle organization.

Things changed when the husband of one of Schmitt’s patients said he knew Jackson personally.

“He called Senator Jackson and handed me the receiver and I told him the story and the problems,” said Schmitt, now 76.

The conversation was short. Jackson said if a committee were formed to get organized and find a site in Everett, he would serve as chairman. Two days after that call, Schmitt said, officials of the Northwest Kidney Center offered to help, as well.

“He must have been pretty powerful,” Schmitt said.

* * *

Pauline Burns, known as “Pinky” to her husband and friends, had been crying when Jackson entered the Edmonds drug store where she worked. She knew him, as he’d shopped there before and was a friend of the owner’s.

Jackson approached and asked her what was wrong, and she told him the story, recounted her husband John Burns.

This was June 1967. She told him how the youngest of the couple’s five sons had enlisted in the Marine Corps and had been hospitalized after a drill instructor “broke him mentally,” said the 92-year-old Burns.

“We couldn’t find out where Shannon was at that time. He said, ‘Pinky, don’t worry about. I’ll take care of it,’ ” said Burns, whose wife passed away in April.

The senator went home, packed his bags, flew to San Diego, where their son’s platoon was stationed, “and gave the Marine Corps hell,” according to Burns.

Jackson reunited them with their son, who now is a doctor in California.

“He really raised Cain down there for us,” Burns said. “That just shows how wonderful a statesman Scoop Jackson was.”

* * *

Harold Goodrich of Granite Falls credits Jackson for getting him and other soldiers discharged from the military after World War II, months, maybe years, faster than any of them expected.

Goodrich, 89, piloted B-29s, but the war ended before he flew any missions. At that time, he said, soldiers got discharged based on points earned through service, with more points awarded for overseas deployments. Lacking such assignments, he couldn’t rack up points fast enough to be released when hostilities ended.

“The war was over and we wanted out. But we couldn’t get our points to earn our way out,” he said.

Goodrich explained his situation in a letter to Jackson in the summer of 1945. Jackson, then a congressman, replied that he agreed the practice was unfair and pledged to contact the War Department, Goodrich said.

“They changed the system” after Jackson got involved, said Goodrich, who did get his release soon after hearing from the congressman.

Years later, Goodrich sat next to Jackson at the dedication of Jack Webb Park in Granite Falls. Webb, a longtime mayor, was Goodrich’s father-in-law.

“I introduced myself,” he said. “I was so nervous that I forgot to tell him thanks.”

* * *

A different batch of tales emerged from those who grew up in the Everett neighborhood where Henry and Helen Jackson lived with their children, Anna Marie and Peter.

Jo Metzger-Levin and Maddy Metzger-Utt are sisters whose childhood home sat across the alley from the Jackson family abode on Grand Avenue.

“Every year at Christmas, our neighborhood would do Christmas caroling and then have a neighborhood party,” they wrote in an email. “We could always count on Senator Jackson and Judge (John F.) Wilson to lead all of us with their strong baritone voices.”

Caroling parties tapered off when Jackson ran for president in 1972 and again in 1976. But his candidacy and the Secret Service details assigned to protect him provided fodder for another chapter of stories.

“We had Secret Service officers positioned in our unfinished attic because there was a view of the entire Jackson property,” wrote the Metzger sisters.

* * *

Larry O’Donnell of Everett, a local historian and Jackson family friend, tells of a time during the 1976 campaign when Jackson decided to go fishing at a trout farm near Granite Falls. The senator brought his daughter, Anna Marie, and her best friend, Jodi, who is O’Donnell’s daughter.

When O’Donnell asked his daughter how it went, she said fine because “the nice men in suits” baited the hooks with the worms.

On another occasion, O’Donnell said, he was outside working on his lawn with an edger when Jackson pulled up to his Grand Avenue home in one car trailed by a station wagon filled with Secret Service officers.

Jackson signaled O’Donnell to come over to the car, and he did — with the edger in hand.

“They intercepted me. They were on me like bear on honey,” he said.

* * *

Bob Spitzer, 69, of Lake Stevens had a unique relationship with Jackson. The senator and Helen Jackson sponsored his wife’s family when they emigrated from Finland. Later, the Jacksons hired his mother-in-law, Irja Hassinen, as a housekeeper.

Periodically, Spitzer and his wife, Marja, would drop by the Jackson home, and while she visited her mom, he camped out in Jackson’s home library. Most times the senator was not home.

Spitzer, a Vietnam War veteran, did meet Jackson in 1967. At the time, he was an unemployed electrician, and when Jackson learned this, he phoned the local union hall — without Spitzer knowing.

“A couple days later I got a call from the union and asked why I had Henry M. Jackson call them,” he said. Spitzer did not get a job out of it.

“He really cared about people,” Spitzer said. “He really meant it when he said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ “

* * *

There’s a litany of reminiscences from those who aided and abetted Jackson in his political career.

In 1972, Tom Tangen, then 15, had recently arrived in Portland, Ore., from Ballard.

On a spring Saturday, after Jackson had entered the race for president, Tangen took part in a 20-mile walkathon in Portland. The starting point happened to be near Jackson’s campaign headquarters, and he had an idea to assist the lawmaker, who had helped the commercial fishing industry in which Tangen’s father worked.

“I offered to carry a (campaign) sign for the 20 miles,” said Tangen, who now lives in Edmonds.

Then things got strange.

“When I got done and returned, they asked for the sign back,” he said. “Handing it back was kind of bizarre. I did carry it for 20 miles.”

Looking back, he figures they needed to reuse it to save money. But they offered something better — a chance for him and his mom to meet Scoop Jackson, which they graciously accepted.

* * *

Gary Baker was 14 when he volunteered on Jackson’s 1972 presidential campaign at the suggestion of his dad, Archie, who served in the Legislature before joining Jackson’s congressional staff in 1950.

One of Gary Baker’s initial tasks: join a group of Everett residents on a chartered flight to Wisconsin for a “Jackson for President” rally.

When Baker graduated from college in 1981, he worked initially in Jackson’s Senate office in Seattle, then signed on with his 1982 Senate campaign. His job was driving the senator to events around the state.

“We spent hundreds of hours together,” said Baker, an attorney who lives in Lake Stevens. “I’d go to his home to pick him up in the morning, and he would bound out of the house ready to go. He had endless energy.”

They drove in an old Chevrolet and popped into McDonald’s once in a while for a quick meal. Baker said his toughest duty was staying on schedule because Jackson loved to gab with people he met at events.

Baker, who now serves on the board of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, described Jackson as self-confident without being pretentious and comfortable in any crowd.

“He could as easily speak with laborers at a mill as he could with Deng Xiaoping,” he said.

When the senator got interviewed on “Meet the Press” or another television talk show — which happened a lot — Baker said, Jackson could be disarming.

“When he’d get some high-browed question, he’d say, ‘I’m just a country boy from Everett, Washington.’ “

* * *

As a lawmaker, Jackson never lost an election. Part of the reason was his knack for remembering names and providing the little extras of constituent service.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, remembered seeing Jackson comb through an edition of The Everett Herald, read the birth notices and direct a member of his staff to send the parents a baby book to track their infant’s “firsts.”

“He was so attentive to the personal stuff,” McDermott said. “Henry Jackson was a premier retail politician as well as an international figure.”

McDermott witnessed Jackson’s diplomatic skill up close in 1970 when they campaigned together at a QFC in Seattle where the store owner allowed the two candidates to chat up customers in the check-out lines.

As they stood near one line, a tall woman wearing a rain hat approached them. She peered down at the shorter Jackson and lit into him for supporting the Vietnam War.

“She said, ‘Henry I think you’re wrong on the war.’ He stood there, then gave it back to her, laying out his position,” McDermott said. “It was a very instructive demonstration to a new politician of how to deal with those who hold other views.”

Jackson knew McDermott opposed the war, as well, but it didn’t matter.

“He could accept that you are not with me today but you’ll be with me tomorrow,” the congressman said.

* * *

While many lionize Jackson’s achievements and idolize his service, he’s not without his critics.

Jackson’s endorsement of the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II is a stain on his political epitaph.

“My life and that of all my relatives were permanently scarred by this,” wrote Lyla Anderson of Everett in an email.

Anderson, 67, said she is a Sansei, or grandchild of Japanese immigrants, and her parents were sent to the relocation camp at Tule Lake in Pierce County in 1942.

“My Mom recalled stowing as many cloth diapers as would fit under a makeshift ‘banana box’ crib for her 4-month-old son,” she said. “My Dad tried to raise money by selling off his farm equipment, but with only several weeks notice, not much was generated.

“I’ve wondered if Mr. Jackson had lived to 1986, would he have supported the public apology and reparations passed by Congress?” she wrote.

And Jackson’s fervent backing of the Vietnam War enraged a large swath of his Democratic Party — even though it didn’t prevent his re-elections by huge margins.

Thomas Gaskin, a professor of history at Everett Community College, said students and faculty picketed outside the Jacksons’ Everett home during the conflict. As a result, the senator did not visit the campus for several years.

Jackson’s attitude and approach toward American Indians evolved.

In his career, he went from essentially supporting a federal policy of breaking treaties with tribes to sponsoring major bills to improve access to health care and education programs for American Indians.

Mark Trahant, a former editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, documented the senator’s journey in his book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars.”

“What was remarkable about Jackson is that he reversed course,” Trahant wrote in an email. “Jackson was one of this country’s greatest statesmen. One who could look at his own record, admit that he was wrong, and then set out to fix it.”

* * *

Albert Ratner has met a lot of politicians, but none measure up to Jackson.

“He’s the gold standard,” said Ratner, the 84-year-old chairman emeritus of Forest City Enterprises Inc., an Ohio property management company.

Ratner worked valiantly to keep Jackson on course for the presidency, often advising him to steer clear of political positions that could doom his effort in 1976.

“A number of times I’d say, ‘You do this and you won’t be president.’ Scoop’s answer was, ‘So I won’t be president. That’s not the end of the world,’ ” Ratner recalled.

One of those times came when the two were eating breakfast and President Richard Nixon phoned Jackson to ask for his help pushing through a controversial bill authorizing construction of a trans-Alaska pipeline.

“I said if he did it he wasn’t going to be president. He said, ‘I’m going to do it. I love caribou, but, frankly, I fear old ladies in Boston who won’t have heat in the winter,’ ” Ratner said. “He wasn’t looking at the project. He was looking at the result.”

Events today

Free public events are planned to commemorate Henry M. Jackson’s life in Everett and his legacy in Congress today:

1:30 p.m.: Rededication of the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center at Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St. Event includes unveiling of a sculpture of Jackson to be displayed in the center. Free parking in Lot B on the main campus.

4 p.m.: Jackson Centennial Celebration in Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Speakers include Jackson’s daughter, Anna Marie Laurence; his son, Peter Jackson; and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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