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Hundreds attend Booth Gardner’s memorial service

Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire speaks near a portrait of former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner at a memorial service Saturday in Tacoma. (Associated Press)
Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire speaks near a portrait of former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner at a memorial service Saturday in Tacoma. (Associated Press)

SEATTLE – Hundreds of people – including public officials, business leaders and ordinary folks – gathered in Tacoma on Saturday for a final goodbye to former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner.

“We all knew this day would come, that Booth would a find a better place,” said former Gov. Chris Gregoire, her voice breaking with emotion. “We just didn’t know how hard it would be.”

It was clear, from the two-hour program held at the University of Puget Sound, that the former governor had touched a lot of lives, both personally and politically.

Indeed, all of the speakers, including Gregoire, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, and Gardner’s brother, Bill Clapp, focused mostly on the personal, telling stories of Gardner’s warmth, humility and mischievous sense of humor.

Clapp recalled the days when his older half-sibling would “teach me wrestling holds, how to hide the liver at dinnertime … a lot of important things.”

Even as an older man, he recalled, the former governor’s eating style was a bit, well, unusual. He made a habit, for instance, of reaching over and picking food off his dining companions’ plates. Once, at a nice restaurant, Clapp recalled, he made a show of ordering a chocolate sundae for dinner. Then he turned around and had a stuffed baked potato for dessert.

A grandson, Jack Nettleton, an athlete just like the former governor, said they spent hundreds of hours driving to and from his practices and games in Grandpa’s black Chrysler, “littered with Coke cans and Beach Boys CDs.”

He remembered one formative moment, when Grandpa stopped to talk to a gas station clerk who was distraught over her boss’s treatment of her.

“You deserve better,’ ” Nettleton recalls his Grandpa telling the woman, adding, “By the way, you have a great smile.’ ”

Nettleton could tell it made the clerk’s day. So he asked his grandfather about it.

“Jack,” he recalls Grandpa telling him, “everyone is happier when they know they’re valued.”

It was a sentiment recalled again and again at the event. Concluding the list of speakers, Inslee read a letter of condolence sent by former President Bill Clinton.

“He made me laugh and think and never stopped showing me what a noble profession public service can be,” Clinton said in the letter.

Other tributes to the former governor’s life and legacy were shown via video.

Gardner served as governor from 1985 to 1993 and will be remembered as a champion of education reform and social services. He also signed the Growth Management Act, which regulated land use. Before that, he was Pierce County executive, a state senator, and was appointed by Clinton to serve as a deputy U.S. trade representative.

In 2008, he championed the state’s Death with Dignity initiative, which allows certain terminally ill patients to obtain medication to end their own lives. His candor about his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease contributed to that campaign’s success. He died March 15 of complications from the disease. His diagnosis was not covered under the initiative.

He is survived by his daughter Gail Gant, of Tacoma; his son Douglas Gardner, of University Place; and eight grandchildren.

The family has requested that donations be made to Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, 400 Mercer St. No 504, Seattle, WA 98109.

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