Medal honors two from state with integrity

There are names better known nationally among this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, announced earlier this week by the White House, but two stand out in terms of service to Washington state and the nation: Billy Frank Jr. and William Ruckelshaus.

Among the 17 recipients who will be honored next Tuesday in Washington, D.C., are names familiar to most — Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Willie Mays — but in addition to honoring artists and athletes, the Medal of Freedom also is presented to those whose contributions to the nation have played a significant role regarding the environment, education, medicine, public policy and other areas of importance.

Frank, a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, who died last year at the age of 83, is being honored for his years of work for Indian treaty rights and the environment. Frank, frequently arrested as a young man for fishing — as he believed treaty rights had established in the tribes’ “natural and accustomed places” — was an advocate for those rights, leading “fish-ins” during the fish wars of the 1960s and 1970s in Washington state. The demonstrations and other activism led to the landmark Boldt decision in 1974 that reaffirmed the rights of Indian tribes to act as co-managers with the state in managing the harvest and protection of salmon and other fish.

Ruckelshaus, now a resident of Medina, was selected by President Richard Nixon as the nation’s first director of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and returned to run the agency again under President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Ruckelshaus’ leadership led to the banning of the pesticide DDT and the agreement with the auto industry that required catalytic converters on vehicles to reduce toxic pollutants.

It shouldn’t be surprising that both men, more than crossing paths, worked with each other on several occasions, notes Bob Drewel, the former Snohomish County executive, and himself a community activist. Drewel worked with Frank and continues to work with Ruckelshaus on local and state issues, serving on the board of the Ruckelshaus Center, which works to build consensus on public policy matters.

Frank, Drewel said, following his work on fishing rights, continued to work with tribes and the state and local governments on environmental issues, including issues specific to the tribes and resources in Snohomish County.

“Billy could be in a room with 99 people, and everyone would be listening to him,” Drewel said.

Ruckelshaus commands the same level of respect because of the integrity he has displayed throughout his life, Drewel said, pointing to his decision to stand up to Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Ruckelshaus, then a deputy attorney general in the Justice Department, resigned in 1973 alongside Attorney General Elliott Richardson rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Ruckelshaus, through his work with the Ruckelshaus Center, hosted jointly by the University of Washington and Washington State University, routinely brings together parties from business, labor, tribes, government and other backgrounds, often with competing interests. Last year, the center facilitated the work of the Highway 530 Landslide Commission, following the deadly March 2014 Oso landslide.

“He uses that integrity to bring people together and get them talking to solve issues,” Drewel said.

Names with greater familiarity will be honored Tuesday night, but none as important to Washington state than Frank and Ruckelshaus.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

A model of a statue of Billy Frank Jr., the Nisqually tribal fishing rights activist, is on display in the lobby of the lieutenant governor's office in the state Capitol. (Jon Bauer / The Herald.
Editorial: Two works in progress to save Columbia Basin salmon

Sculptures of an Indian fishing rights activist will guard commitments to save salmon and honor treaties.

February 27, 2024: Alabama Embryo Ruling
Editorial cartoons for Friday, March 1

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Schwab: Kids’ are all right, if a tad cold; nation’s another matter

Alabama’s IVF ruling shows the dangers in the creep of theocracy into our courts and other institutions.

Choose sources of news carefully to understand world

From what I have seen and heard, there are still many people… Continue reading

GOP wants to run on border crisis, not fix it

Regarding a recent letter to the editor about Herald Columnist Sid Schwab,… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo, a tanker airplane drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning near Twisp, Wash. Three firefighters were killed battling the blaze. The story was a top Washington state news item in 2015. Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has proposed a plan to strengthen the ways that Washington can prevent and respond to wildfires. Franz released the 10-year plan last week as part of her $55 million budget request to the Legislature to improve the state's firefighting abilities (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: Wildfire threat calls for restoring full funding

Lawmakers should restore funding for fighting wildfires and call on one furry firefighter in particular.

Jaime Benedict, who works as a substitute teacher, waves to drivers on the corner of Mukilteo Speedway and Harbor Pointe Boulevard while holding a sign in support of the $240 million capital bond proposal for Mukilteo School District on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 in Mukilteo, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Bar set unfairly high for passage of school bonds

Requiring 60 percent approval denies too many students the schools and facilities they deserve.

Why was $340 million in covid aid given to undocumented immigrants?

I was searching the internet and could not locate any news in… Continue reading

Comment: Without ruling, Supreme Court hands Trump a win

Not taking the immunity case until late April will delay his trials, possibly until after the election.

Comment: Work under way to rebuild reliable ferry system

There are efforts ongoing in the short- and long-term, but there’s a threat in an initiative this fall.

BPA must diversify sources beyond dams

The Bonneville Power Administration was created by an act of congress in… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.