McCoy receives an overdue tribute from Senate colleagues

The former lawmaker was praised as a “quiet giant” for his work on education, environment and tribal issues.

Sen. John McCoy

Sen. John McCoy

OLYMPIA — When John McCoy retired from the state Senate a year ago, his colleagues didn’t get a chance to give him a proper send-off.

They did Friday, albeit virtually.

With McCoy tuned in via Zoom, senators, Democrat and Republican, recognized the Tulalip leader for his guidance, praised his patience and integrity, and thanked him for making the bolo a widely acceptable attire on the Senate floor.

In a tribute lasting nearly an hour, they sought to hit some of the high points of a legislative career spanning five terms in the House and another two in the Senate.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, who succeeded McCoy in the House and now the Senate, described him as the “ultimate long-game player.”

“In true Native American philosophical language he always reminded me to think about the future and to think about the long game. You can make this decision now but you can change later,” she recalled him advising her.

“A true visionary, someone who played the long game and someone for whom this body and the state of Washington and the people of the state of Washington are much better off because of his service.”

McCoy, 77, retired last April, citing health challenges of diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus at the time.

“I was really sorry I had to leave so suddenly,” McCoy told his former colleagues. “I am feeling a lot better right now. I want y’all to keep up the good work.”

A Tulalip leader and one of the first Native Americans elected to the Legislature, he was a voice for sovereign tribes as he strove to build and strengthen relations between the state and tribal governments in a 17-year legislative career.

In 2002, McCoy won a seat in the state House representing residents of Everett, Tulalip and parts of Marysville in the 38th District. He was re-elected five times before being appointed to the state Senate in 2013. He won a full four-year term in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018.

In his tenure, he authored bills to incorporate Native American history into public school curriculum and protect rights of lower-paid workers. He pressed for expanding access to education, tougher rules for oil transportation and water quality, expanding production of alternative energy and bolstering initiatives to defeat climate change.

And, in a bit of an ironic twist Friday, McCoy, who toiled tirelessly to get broadband service extended into rural areas, encountered connectivity problems which delayed the start of the tribute.

Time and again Friday, senators thanked McCoy for his efforts to open their eyes to and expand their understanding of life in Indian Country. Indian law, water rights and taxation were among the subjects in which he educated them, senators said. Also, through his persistence, tribal issues are now a focus of committees in the House and Senate.

“You are a quiet giant,” said Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma. “You have made your imprint on Washington state history … in your role in bringing focus to Native American issues in our state and our country.”

Many lauded McCoy’s patience and thoughtfulness and noted the strength of his lack of loquaciousness.

“He is a man of few words but his words were very powerful when they were spoken,” said Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy.

And Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, sought to correct those who misread McCoy’s stoicism as grumpy.

“John’s not grumpy. He just looks that way,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, injected a dose of levity when he thanked McCoy for clearing a path for wearers of bolo ties.

“He, I think, is singlehandedly responsible for bringing proper attire to the Senate,” said Braun, for whom bolos are preferred neckwear. “He led with the bolo tie, and that is something I will forever appreciate.”

McCoy served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 1981. He worked as a White House computer technician before embarking on a management career in the private sector.

In 2000, he became general manager at Quil Ceda Village, pouring a foundation for a growing commercial development that is a major piston of the county’s economic engine.

Reflecting on the breadth of his life experience and professional career, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said, “John was a lion among us and a giant among us but he never acted like that.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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