Munson led Valley with honesty, heart
New Year’s Day marked a significant loss for Spokane Valley in the passing of Richard Munson, a former mayor and charter city councilmember. Munson was larger than life and indeed lived every day to its fullest. The consummate servant leader, his life was dedicated to serving his family, his country, his community and his fellow man.
I have had the privilege of knowing Munson for nearly 15 years. He was a local Republican activist and leader, helping elect George Nethercutt to Congress in 1994, co-chairing the Spokane area campaign for Bob Dole in 1996 and serving as a Republican state committeeman for several years. I was struck by Munson’s practical approach to politics and government – conservative in thought, but temperate in action. It was a rare trait given the ideological partisan environment we are accustomed to today.
Following Spokane Valley’s incorporation vote in 2002, Munson, along with me, joined the band of 52 candidates who announced their intentions to campaign for one of the seven seats on the new City Council and joined several incorporation committees focused on the transition from county to municipal government. That November, when the first council was chosen, the seven of us forged a relationship to build a new city from the ground up and foster a spirit of service and ingenuity in Washington state’s newest municipality of 82,000 citizens.
Working side by side with Munson wasn’t always a dream. Munson, to say the least, was opinionated, and we failed to see eye to eye on numerous issues. In fact, I would often go out of my way on council nights to offer an opposing argument just to ensure the other side would be heard. In all of our banter, though, Munson never took any of it personally and we stood together as a solid bloc on many of the city’s foundational issues during our time on the council.
Munson’s only flaw as a politician was that he would often take a stand on an issue while in the process of forming his opinion, resulting in several subsequent reversals that required him to admit he was wrong. However, this was one of Munson’s greatest strengths, in that he never feared to take the lead and accepted the risk that he might be wrong. He could never stand by and accept a void in leadership. Rather he constantly looked for opportunities to stand in the gap.
Next to his service, Munson’s leadership was his most notable trait. Munson served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Vietnam and continued his service in the reserves until retirement at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He loved the armed services and would have dropped everything yesterday if given the opportunity to return.
Munson was a lifelong Rotarian and served as president of Spokane Rotary 21, helping raise money for regional park facilities and charitable foundations in the Inland Northwest and internationally. Munson was one of the most generous individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing and would give the shirt off his back to a person in need.
And while Munson never shied from the cameras or the reporter when doing the public’s business, he never sought recognition for the immeasurable amount of time, money, and effort he bestowed to charity and improving the plight of his fellow man.
Mayor Munson’s trait was tenacity. Munson knew that anything worth accomplishing would take perseverance, hard work, and time. He had a vision for what Spokane Valley – his home for more than 30 years – could be, and I believe that is what drove him during his years with the city. Valley incorporation, the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, and establishing a permanent regional voice for Spokane Valley citizens were priorities from which he would never back away as he believed they were core to maintaining the community’s quality of life.
Munson’s word was his bond. He would often tell you things you may not want to hear, but they were honest and came from his heart. I worked well with Munson, despite philosophical and political differences, because I knew his gut and knew his heart.
When I announced my departure from the council in 2009, Munson mixed his farewell for me with tears of gratitude and sorrow. I was deeply touched by his emotion and sincerity, and I felt the true bond of family and friendship that had grown and strengthened through seven years in the field of political combat. As I reflect upon the life of a leader, a servant, and a friend, I weep for you now, my brother, and bid you a farewell to arms. May you rest in peace.
Steve Taylor is a former Spokane Valley City Council member. He is the city manager in Connell, Wash.