Deborah Knutson (second from left), who died in December, was leader of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council when she visited the future site of the Brightwater sewage facility near Woodinville in 2003. Also pictured (from left) are King County’s Christie True, then-King County Executive Ron Sims and Mike Sells, now a member of the state House of Representatives. A scholarship fund in Knutson’s honor has been established through Leadership Snohomish County. (Dan Bates / Herald Photo)

Deborah Knutson (second from left), who died in December, was leader of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council when she visited the future site of the Brightwater sewage facility near Woodinville in 2003. Also pictured (from left) are King County’s Christie True, then-King County Executive Ron Sims and Mike Sells, now a member of the state House of Representatives. A scholarship fund in Knutson’s honor has been established through Leadership Snohomish County. (Dan Bates / Herald Photo)

Longtime leader Deborah Knutson’s legacy will live on

Deborah Knutson, who headed the Snohomish County Economic Development Council for a dozen years, was both driven and big-hearted. She was part of the effort to keep Boeing’s 787 assembly in Everett, yet she didn’t seek the limelight.

It was 2010 when she stepped down as president and CEO of the agency that later evolved into Economic Alliance Snohomish County. On Dec. 30, the 62-year-old Knutson lost her battle with multiple system atrophy, a rare neurological disorder with symptoms like those of Parkinson’s disease.

“She was one of those people who had the power, the connections, but there was nothing pretentious about Deborah,” said Matt Smith, director of industry and resource development with Economic Alliance Snohomish County. “Part of her leadership ability was reflected in her personal relationships with people.”

Knutson’s legacy will live on through a new scholarship fund established by Leadership Snohomish County. That nonprofit group works to develop new leaders with its nine-month program of classes. Through annual Signature and Young Professionals classes, participants spend one work day per month learning about different aspects of the county, including law and justice, arts and culture, and human services.

Smith spoke about the Deborah Knutson Women’s Leadership Fund during Knutson’s memorial service, which was Saturday at the University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle. Knutson, who lived in Seattle, is survived by her husband, Michael Williams; daughter, Erin Williams; and son, Garret Williams.

As of late Monday, $2,050 had been donated to the fund, said Kathy Coffey, Leadership Snohomish County’s executive director. Tuition is about $3,000 for one person to attend the Signature program.

Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting nominations for its 2017-18 program, the group’s 20th season. Coffey said mentoring is key to developing new local leaders.

Nicole Faghin, Knutson’s longtime friend, is a former member of the Leadership Snohomish County board. It was Faghin’s idea to start the fund, which will pay for one woman to attend Leadership Snohomish County classes each year.

“Deborah was a role model for other women,” said Faghin, 59, an environmental planner and lawyer with Washington Sea Grant. “I was really proud to know her, proud to be her friend,” the Edmonds woman said.

Along with honoring her friend’s memory, Faghin said the fund will address what she sees as a lack of women in local leadership roles. “I would talk to her about how important she had been to me as a role model,” Faghin said. “I wanted to see a legacy for her that represents being a woman leader in Snohomish County.”

Coffey said the scholarship recipient will join a Leadership Snohomish County class in September.

A $20,000 grant from the Women’s Funding Alliance recently helped Leadership Snohomish County examine barriers to female leadership. One goal is for more women to serve on local boards, Coffey said. “It’s beginning to change in Snohomish County,” she said.

Before Knutson’s tenure with the Economic Development Council ended, she said her most memorable accomplishment was being part of a team that pushed the Boeing Co. to assemble the 787 Dreamliner in Everett. The state offered Boeing more than $3 billion in incentives during that process.

“It was a true honor being part of the project, from site selection to first flight,” Knutson told The Herald in 2010.

“It was a statewide and regional effort,” Smith said Monday. “Being a cheerleader for Boeing, and what it means for Snohomish County, that was Deborah.”

Knutson’s daughter is proud to see her mother’s efforts honored. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I understood what she was doing with Boeing and aerospace,” said Erin Williams, 31, of Seattle.

Her mother was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy in 2012, but had started suffering symptoms several years earlier. Williams said she has run a marathon and joined in the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) bike ride to raise money for the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition.

“She was a compassionate, driven, gregarious person,” Williams said. “I know she would be honored to keep her legacy going.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

The Deborah Knutson Women’s Leadership Fund will help pay tuition for participants in Leadership Snohomish County classes. Learn more at www.leadershipsc.org/home.

To contribute, click on “Donate” at the website and check the Deborah Knutson Women’s Leadership Fund box.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Jesse Spitzer (Snohomish County Sheriff's Office)
Wanted man fled from Gold Bar to Idaho, police say

Jesse Spitzer, 30, who has a history of violence against officers, is wanted for felonies in two states.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
‘White saviorhood’: Mukilteo schools end ‘Mockingbird’ requirement

The book is not banned in the school district. The last book brought before the school board was by Maya Angelou.

Police: Marysville Pilchuck student arrested for wielding knife

Neither of the students involved in the Wednesday morning fight was injured, police reported.

Police looking for Mukilteo bank robber, seeking tips

The man appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s, white, slender, about 5-foot-8, with dark blond hair.

Lynnwood Public Works employees on the snow plow crew sit in front of one of the city's two plows that will be named based on results of an online public vote. (City of Lynnwood)
Lynnwood snow plow names: Snowbi Wan Kenobi, Plowy McPlowface

They got the two highest votes in an online public survey by Lynnwood Public Works.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Despite Arizona move, Everett leaders expect Funko HQ to stay

The toymaker is closing Everett warehouses. But a recent “HQ2” expansion has the city confident Funko will remain rooted here.

Island County jail slammed with first COVID outbreak

Three cell blocks are in quarantine and about a third of the jail staff are out with COVID.

The tower of Paine Field Airport stands in a fog bank forcing flights to be averted or cancelled in Everett, Washington on January 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
More 5G-related cancellations as Paine Field fog persists

The FAA has not cleared certain planes to land in low visibility in Everett due to nearby 5G cellular towers.

Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is deploying 100 members of the state National Guard to hospitals across the state amid staff shortages due to an omicron-fueled spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Inslee announced Thursday that teams will be deployed to assist four overcrowded emergency departments at hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane, and that testing teams will be based at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Past the omicron peak? Snohomish County’s COVID cases declining

Hospitalizations are still a concern, however, and infections in Eastern Washington and Idaho could have ripple effects here.

Most Read