Cliff and Rosemary Bailey in 2016. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Cliff and Rosemary Bailey in 2016. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Snohomish farmer and civic leader Cliff Bailey dies at 94

He is remembered as an elected public servant and a tireless advocate for farmland preservation.

SNOHOMISH — Cliff Bailey will be remembered for many things: his commitment to public education, his mental health advocacy and his love of family and the land.

He was a humble man with remarkable foresight, a key figure more than 40 years ago in preserving Snohomish Valley farmland so it would be around today.

Over the decades, he served on the school board, the county council and in the Legislature, but he never ventured too far for too long from the family farm where he was raised.

Bailey, 94, died May 29 on that farm with family at his bedside, including his Snohomish High School sweetheart, Rosemary, whom he married 74 years ago.

“The county has lost a great leader who spent a great deal of time taking care of not only his constituents, but always looking into the future, particularly on farmland preservation, and activities of that nature,” said Bob Drewel, retired Snohomish County executive and Everett Community College president. “But I think the thing I’ll remember most about him is that he was always a gentleman.”

Bailey knew what it was like to get up to milk the cows at 4 a.m. In 1918, his grandparents started a dairy farm that was long known as Bailand Farm. In the 1980s, Cliff Bailey authored the county’s original Farmland Preservation Plan.

“He clearly had a lot of foresight and vision specifically around the importance of farmland preservation in the county and I appreciate that he was able to help us to move the needle on that over the past several years and he just deserves a lot of credit for having that foresight about what was needed in the community,” said Hilary Aten, conservation and stewardship director for the Washington Farmland Trust.

In 2015, the Baileys signed a conservation easement that would help preserve the Bailey Farm for generations to come.

“He knows that the pressures of farming — that you’re going to sell out to developer if you can,” Cliff Bailey’s daughter-in-law Barb Bailey said.

Cliff Bailey’s family said he was a “progressive” farmer in that he was always willing to adapt the crops to the demands of the community. The farm has been home to everything from dairy cattle to broccoli to pumpkins and U-pick berries. To this day, people often show up even on days the farm is closed and ask if they can pick some of the tasty berries.

“Economics change, business changes, but the land — if you allow it to — can go on forever,” Cliff’s son Don Bailey said. “I think that was Cliff’s message.”

Cliff Bailey worked hard to instill the value of a life of farming in younger generations through leadership roles for the Future Farmers of America (FFA), Washington State Holstein Association, All West Breeders and the National Holstein Board of Directors.

Cliff Bailey (center) and his son Don Bailey walk up Cliff’s driveway on the family’s 300-acre farm in Snohomish in 2016. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Cliff Bailey (center) and his son Don Bailey walk up Cliff’s driveway on the family’s 300-acre farm in Snohomish in 2016. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

“He was a leader through his entire life,” said Linda Neunzig, agriculture coordinator for Snohomish County Conservation and Natural Resources.

Neunzig remembers pictures from a Bailey family album. There was Cliff Bailey, a high school kid in the 1940s, proudly showing his dairy cows at the Evergreen State Fair. Years later, when Neunzig was growing up, Bailey would help out in the FFA program at the high school.

Cliff Bailey instilled the value of farming in his own children: Don Bailey, Barb Bailey and granddaughters Elizabeth Bailey and Anne Bailey Freeman are carrying on the tradition.

“Our girls are graduated — Annie graduated in business and Elizabeth graduated in teaching — and they both are farming now full time,” Barb Bailey said.

Beyond the agricultural world, Cliff Bailey was a public servant, serving on the Snohomish School Board from 1961 to 1969, on the Snohomish County Council in the early 1980s and later in the state Senate.

However, “he wasn’t in it for the politics,” Rosemary Bailey said.

Cliff Bailey’s family said he was a results-oriented public servant. While serving as chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the 1990s, the Legislature passed a bill that would create the Running Start program, allowing high school juniors and seniors to take community college courses and earn credit.

While serving in the Senate for two terms, he also pushed for funding for mental health and farmland preservation.

Cliff Bailey’s family said he took the skills he learned in Olympia and shared them with local nonprofits.

“He would always tell those folks, ‘You got to go down, it really pays off to go down to Olympia and meet face to face to get what you need, you can secure funding by doing that,’ and I think they did,” Don Bailey said.

Cliff Bailey’s contributions to the community reach far and wide.

His decade as chairman of the board of directors for Compass Health was memorialized through the Bailey Building, and his contributions to the future of agriculture in Snohomish County are visible through the wide-open spaces and agricultural economy valued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at $139.5 million.

“I think it’s more than tradition. I think it’s tradition, but it’s food security, it’s the love of the land and making sure the land is working, and that it’s producing food that it sustaining livestock,” Neunzig said. “He was a longtime dairyman and that’s important to him. Going up into that old original barn up there. You walk into a barn like that and you feel this history all around you … it’s a multi-generational farm and it always will be.”

In his final days, as his health failed, his family moved a bed into the living room of his home so he could look out at green pastures and hay bales, the family’s first home and the brown barn he held so dear.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at G.A.R. Cemetery, 8601 Riverview Road, Snohomish. A reception at Cliff and Rosemary’s home will follow.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella

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