Richard Munson, former mayor of Spokane Valley, died Saturday from complications of leukemia.
He was 68.
Munson grew up all over the world in a military family and lived many different places during his own Air Force career, but once he settled down in the Spokane Valley in 1977, he was passionately committed to bettering his community, family and friends said.
“If you look at the important things in his life – it was my mom, us kids and the city,” said his son, Mark Munson.
“There was nothing that made him more proud than being mayor of the city of Spokane Valley, even with all the hassles. He loved it.”
Elected in November 2002, he was one of the first City Council members of the new city of Spokane Valley. He served as deputy mayor and then was chosen by his council peers to be mayor in 2008.
He, along with the other first leaders of the new city, faced complex issues, including how to monitor land use and development. Munson worked on the creation of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan. That, and many other issues, became controversial.
He lost a re-election bid in November 2009, in a contentious race that discouraged him but didn’t keep him from civic life. Just last month, he was elected to the board of directors of the nonprofit organization Spokane Valley Partners.
“Out of all the jobs he had, he loved being a part of the city. He couldn’t wait to get up and go to work,” said Janet Munson, his wife of 45 years.
Munson was a member of the Air Force, active and reserves, for 28 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He served in Vietnam and was reactivated for the Gulf War. In his civilian life, he worked as a stockbroker and also became a dedicated volunteer, active in Boy Scouts and Spokane Valley Youth Soccer when his children were young.
“We loved our military community, but we chose Spokane, and it was the first time we belonged to a community,” Janet said. “We dug in right away.”
Munson mentored and encouraged others to run for office.
Bill Gothmann, a current Spokane Valley council member, remembers Munson asking if he needed any help in his first campaign.
“I said, ‘Rich, will you run a doorbelling campaign for me? I’ll supply all my friends, just get them organized.’ He did. We had a big gathering in my backyard. He brought a big chart of the entire city, and he assigned everybody to different precincts.”
Munson encouraged Spokane City Council member Nancy McLaughlin to seek appointment to the board of the Association of Washington Cities, even though she’d only been in office a year at the time.
“Rich said, ‘You can do this.’ Without his support, I wouldn’t have gone for it. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on issues, but he always respected me and we could debate issues back and forth,” McLaughlin said.
“He had deeply-held convictions,” she said. “He drove some people crazy, but that’s what endeared me to him. He was always himself.”
Though Munson grappled with health problems for years, he minimized them.
“He just kind of ignored it,” Janet said. “He always joked he was the poster child for Agent Orange. He’d already had prostate cancer. And then the leukemia. Then diabetes. And he had six bypasses 12 years ago.
“He was a fighter. When his leg artery blocked up this summer, he said, ‘OK, can you Roto-Rooter it?’ They did, and he was back out playing golf and going to the gym. Even this last week, he said, ‘I’m going to beat this.’ ”
Munson had also served as president of the Association of Washington Cities board of directors, and he was active in downtown Spokane Rotary.
He is survived by his wife, three adult children and four grandchildren. Services are pending.