Metcalf, ‘a major force’

WHIDBEY ISLAND – They described Jack Metcalf as a politician who couldn’t be blinded, a father who never stopped caring and a man who could laugh about losing.

Hundreds of people gathered at South Whidbey Assembly of God on Saturday to honor Metcalf, a former state and federal lawmaker and longtime island resident. He died March 15 at the age of 79.

“If Jack could see this large group here to support him, nothing could stop him from running for office one more time,” said his wife, Norma Metcalf, drawing cheers and laughter from the crowd.

Metcalf served 24 years in the Legislature and six years in the U.S. Congress, retiring in 2001. He also taught 30 years in public schools, nearly all of that time in secondary schools in Everett.

Lawmakers in Olympia and Washington, D.C., called Metcalf a maverick. He wasn’t afraid to break from party lines, said Lew Moore, Metcalf’s chief of staff for most of his time in Congress.

“Jack was a major force in my life in every conceivable way,” Moore said at the service.

Rep. Chris Strow, R-Freeland, interned for Metcalf in the Legislature and worked for him in Congress.

Holding back tears, Strow told the audience about his early days as an intern, when Metcalf surprised him by asking his opinion on a policy issue. Strow answered the question honestly, disagreeing with his new boss.

The next day, Metcalf was waiting for Strow when he arrived at work.

“He said, ‘I thought about what you said, and you were right,’” Strow said. “He was my boss, but also my friend.”

Snohomish County Councilman Gary Nelson, who served 22 years in the state Legislature, credited Metcalf for inspiring him to seek state office.

He remembers Metcalf running up the Capitol stairs each day.

“I found out how knowledgeable he really was, and how competitive he was,” Nelson said.

Metcalf’s four daughters shared stories of the family’s first trip to Europe, when Metcalf – without knowing any language other than English – somehow got himself invited to go out with a group of Italian fisherman.

They laughed about his sweet tooth, and how he used to stash ice cream in a box he’d disguised as a package of beef liver.

“Life was fun,” said Ann Bowman, one of his daughters. “Everything was an adventure.”

Metcalf died surrounded by family members at HomePlace in Oak Harbor, where he had received care for Alzheimer’s disease. He was unable to speak for the final few weeks of his life.

However, three days before his death, he had one last thing to say to his wife.

“He said, very clearly, ‘I love you,’” said Lea Headley, also one of his daughters. “Those are the last words my dad ever said. But what a gift he gave my mom and me.”

Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or

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