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Former House Speaker O’Brien dies

Mon., April 23, 2007

OLYMPIA – Former House Speaker John L. O’Brien, a master parliamentarian described by the governor as “an Olympia icon,” died on Sunday, the final day of session for the institution he cherished.

The former speaker’s family announced he died Sunday morning of unspecified ailments at age 95, said Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, who served with O’Brien.

“The people of Washington and this institution have lost a cherished and revered leader,” said Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick, D-Mountlake Terrace.

O’Brien served in the state House for more than 50 years, serving 26 terms under nine governors. He was appointed in 1939 and served until 1993, missing one session when he lost a primary by 23 votes.

He served on every major House committee and was speaker for four two-year terms and speaker pro-tempore for 20 years. He also was minority leader and majority leader.

O’Brien, the son of Irish immigrants, and a New Deal Democrat, represented working class Seattle in the Legislature. He was known for his courtly manner and his demand for decorum and strict adherence to legislative rules and parliamentary procedure.

He was dumped by a coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats in 1963, including future Gov. Dan Evans and future Sen. Slade Gorton. His power declined, but he remained a popular stand-in presiding officer and taught newcomers parliamentary procedure and legislative etiquette.

The main House office building in Olympia is named in his honor.

In Olympia, tributes flowed from his former colleagues and from Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“Speaker O’Brien skillfully led the House of Representatives through challenging times and was respected by those who served with him,” the governor said. “His service in the Legislature spanned seven decades, making him the longest serving member in Washington history.

“He is an Olympia icon and his dedication serves as an inspiration to me and to all Washingtonians.”


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