The gentlewoman from Bothell

In the waning moments of the legislative session, as combative lawmakers debated education funding, health care reform and spending cuts, the conversation turned to colleague Jeanne Edwards, and a cease-fire ensued.

One by one, lawmakers of every political stripe rose to honor the 75-year-old Democratic lawmaker from Bothell who won’t be returning to the state Capitol next year.

"She just represented what’s gentle about this place," House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said in backing a resolution honoring Edwards. "She is kind and distinguished."

Edwards missed the testimonials. She was at home that day, and most of the final days of voting, because of a near- deadly turn in her health.

On dialysis for kidney failure since 1999, she became sick March 2 in Olympia when the flow of fluids to her heart unexpectedly slowed. She recovered with a bit of time in the hospital and a stepped up regimen of treatment.

"Life has its way of giving you messages. There was nothing I could do about it," she said.

She wanted to vote against charter schools — "because we’re not fully funding public schools" — and for a new highway offramp in Bothell — "I’m hoping against hope that the governor signs it."

She would have returned, but party leaders said not to worry, her health is more important.

"I don’t know of anything in my lifetime that has bothered me more than having this happen to me during the session."

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  • Born in Leadville, Colo., Jeanne Laushine’s political genealogy dates back to the late 19th century when descendants served on local councils in Ireland.

    Growing up in Colorado Springs, she recalled politics discussed nightly at dinners in her grandmother’s home.

    "We talked about it, we talked about taxes, we talked about what we wanted for our country," she said.

    In addition to politics, the young Laushine showed a penchant for writing, reporting for the newspaper of her Catholic high school and then with the Colorado Springs Gazette. In 1950, she and her husband, Bill Edwards, moved to Washington.

    She took classes at the University of Washington but never earned a college degree. That may be her biggest regret.

    "If I could start all over again, I would go to college. If you are going to go some place, get the best education, get one a lot better than mine," she advised. "I never felt inferior but I didn’t get every opportunity."

    Raising three sons and a daughter, Edwards made the most of the chances she got.

    She worked as a writer and editor of "Today’s Living" for The Herald. She went to work in hospital administration, first at General Hospital (now Providence Everett Medical Center) and then Community Health Center, where she was executive director.

    When she stepped down as executive she stepped up her civic activism, capturing seats on the Bothell City Council in 1992 and the Snohomish Health District Board of Directors two years later.

    In 1998, she won election to the state legislature in Position 2 of the 10th District that encompasses Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Bothell and continues east to Kirkland. She surrendered the health board seat in 1999 and the City Council spot later that year to focus on state matters.

    While on the council, she enjoyed her "proudest achievement" in helping convince Cascadia Community College and the UW to build campuses in the city. In Olympia this year, when a plan to unite the two surfaced, her vociferous opposition helped halt it.

    Edwards is Irish Catholic and Democratic to her core.

    "I’ve never known anything but that."

    Her hero is President Kennedy. "Always was and always will be," she said. "The first time he came to Seattle, a friend of mine and I went and followed his every step for three days. He was the right person at the right time."

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  • Rep. Laura Ruderman, D-Kirkland, called Edwards the right person in 2000 with the bill that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

    "It was Jeanne who worked it and pushed it and pushed it. She got that bill passed," Ruderman said. "The tens of thousands of children who have health care today are a living legacy to Jeanne, a legacy for the state of Washington that cannot be made too little of."

    Edwards said the idea of such a program motivated her to seek state office.

    "When I was up in Everett I tried so many times to get better health care for children in Snohomish County so I decided I’d go to the Legislature to try and get better health care for children across the state. Passing the bill was a great thrill."

    But last year she voted to cut funding for the program to offset the cost of the Boeing 7E7 incentive package.

    "That was torment for me. I voted for it, but I cried on the way home because of some of the things we had to cut to get it," she said. "It was one of those times in your life that you have to confront what’s in the best interests of all."

    In her final term, Edwards tried to add to her legacy with a bill to force those 75 years and older to obtain a doctor’s clearance to drive. "Who better than me to bring it up," she said.

    Edwards, who charmed fellow lawmakers with her spunk, spirit and humor, said she never encountered anyone she couldn’t work with. "They are all well-intended people," she said.

    That’s one reason why she longed to have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them when the session ended at a stroke past midnight March 12. "People don’t realize how fun it is. It’s a wonderful thing."

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