January 18, 2010 in City

State’s current, former leaders help Rosellini celebrate turning 100

Erik Lacitis Seattle Times
archive photo

Gov. Albert D. Rosellini and Miss Spokane (Patricia Kelly) open Spokane’s Maple Street toll bridge to traffic in July 1958. Rosellini’s friend, the Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) of television fame, looks on. The Spokesman-Review archive
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SEATTLE – They gathered Saturday for lunch to honor the oldest member of a very exclusive club.

It has only seven members, and they all make sure that no matter what important things are on their schedule, or where they are, they make it to this event. They are the seven living governors of Washington, and on Saturday, although in a wheelchair after breaking his hip in September, there was Al Rosellini, about to turn 100 on Thursday.

The governors were remarkably cordial and friendly with one another, considering most had run against another for office, sometimes in nasty races.

But time passes and the heated remarks don’t seem as important.

“We all share the same thing,” Dan Evans, 84, the Republican governor from 1965 to 1977, said about knowing just what it’s like to be a governor. “It’s welded us together.”

It was Evans who beat Rosellini, a Democrat, when the latter ran for a third term after first being elected in 1957. Then, when Evans himself ran for a third term, Rosellini tried a comeback, and Evans once again won.

Now the two men greet each other like old friends, which they are.

Said Rosellini, “You fight bitterly at the time, but then you go on, pick up and forget.”

The governor, or Al, as he is often called, was more than willing to pose for photos, crack a joke, lend a smile, talk some politics and just plain enjoy being with those who showed up.

Until September, Rosellini was going every day to his office in Georgetown; up until a couple of years ago, he was driving there himself from his apartment in Madison Park.

“I’m still a lawyer, still qualified in doing law business,” Rosellini said. “I was more or less discussing different legislative and business issues.”

His son, Al Rosellini Jr., 57, a Seattle businessman, said the family finally took the elder Rosellini’s car keys away after he banged up his Cadillac a few too many times.

“It was nothing of importance,” said the governor about the dents. Still, he agreed it was best to let others drive.

After breaking his hip, he moved to the Skyline at First Hill assisted-living facility, where the party was held.

This is now the seventh or eighth year this exclusive party has been held for Rosellini – nobody could remember the exact number.

The party is organized by former Gov. Gary Locke, now U.S. secretary of commerce. Locke, governor from 1997 to 2005, was also born on Jan. 21, but 40 years after Rosellini.

Other governors present were Chris Gregoire, a Democrat serving her second term in office; John D. Spellman, 83, Republican governor from 1981 to 1985; Booth Gardner, 73, Democratic governor from 1985 to 1993; and Mike Lowry, 70, Democratic governor from 1993 to 1997. Some showed their age with a slower walk. Gardner, who has Parkinson’s disease, was in a wheelchair.

Gregoire talked about the special bond among members of the club.

“I can count on every one of them,” she said. “I can call them on the phone and ask for advice.”

Locke explained why Rosellini mattered to a world in which history is what happened last week, events are often reduced to a sound bite, and four-fifths of the state’s population was either not yet born or under age 10 when Rosellini’s governor days were over.

“He was a trailblazer,” Locke said. “You know, he’s been called the father of UW Medicine. He basically created the UW Medical School, and Harborview. He worked for us to have institutions for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

“… And he made sure the 520 bridge was built.” (Its official name is the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge Evergreen Point.)

In a conference room at the assisted-living facility, a bunch of the governor’s scrapbooks and photos were displayed.

It was quite an array.

There was Rosellini with Elvis. Frank Sinatra. Queen Elizabeth. Harry Truman. Liberace. Eleanor Roosevelt. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bill Clinton. John F. Kennedy.

Rosellini was presented with various gifts on Saturday. There was a U.S. flag that had been flown in Washington, D.C., over the Capitol, a birthday greeting signed by Barack and Michelle Obama, and various official proclamations.

The nearly 100-year-old governor reveled in it all.

He’d take a nap after the festivities. But for the luncheon, he was energized.

Spellman remembered this image he has of Rosellini at the old Sicks’ baseball stadium in Rainier Valley.

“He’s a populist,” said Spellman. “You’d go to the stadium and he’d walking up and down, shaking hands. Everybody knew him.”

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