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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State office building named for former Gov. Gregoire

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson share a laugh Wednesday, June 15, 2016, during a dedication ceremony renaming the Spokane attorney general’s office for Gregoire in downtown Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When Chris Gregoire was first hired at the Spokane office of the state attorney general in the late 1970s, the Legislature had just changed the law to give that agency control over prosecuting child abuse.

The freshly minted lawyer got the job of handling child abuse cases in Eastern Washington. Not just Spokane, she emphasized during an interview Wednesday, but everything from the Cascades to Idaho.

She traveled throughout the region, prosecuted some horrific cases and began a career in public service that would include leading the Spokane office, heading the Ecology Department, three terms as attorney general and two terms as governor.

But Spokane was a special place where she graduated from law school, met and married her husband, Mike, and had their first child, Courtney.

In recognition of that connection and her decades of public service, her successor, Bob Ferguson, designated the attorney general’s office on Riverside Avenue the Christine O. Gregoire Office on Wednesday with the former governor, her husband and daughter in attendance.

It’s not the actual office she worked in, Gregoire said before the ceremony. That office was in the Paulsen Building on a floor that had previously been occupied by dentists, still had some of their equipment and didn’t look much like legal offices. She did help negotiate the lease for the present space on a historic block overlooking the Spokane River, but was transferred before they moved in.

“I never got to enjoy that fabulous view,” she said.

Over the next three decades, Gregoire would lock horns with the federal government over the nuclear cleanup at Hanford, negotiate a settlement with the tobacco industry that sends hundreds of millions to the states to pay for the health problems cigarettes cause, and lead the state through a recession.

But one of her proudest memories stems from a case in those early days, when she took a horribly abused toddler out of a dangerous home and placed her with a foster family that eventually adopted her. Years later, she got a letter from that adoptive mother, saying the girl had gone into social work and and was going to law school, hoping to someday work for the attorney general’s office. She wants to be like you, the mother wrote.

“There’s no greater thanks,” Gregoire said.

Since retiring from the governor’s office at the start of 2013, she has served as chairwoman of the Export Import Bank, trustee of the Fred Hutchinson Research Center and chief executive officer of Challenge Seattle, a group of CEOs of some of the biggest Washington-based companies, that is working to improve the state’s infrastructure, education, jobs and the international image of Seattle and the rest of the state.

To most people around the world, Washington means D.C. and Seattle is either a place where wheat, wine grapes, apples and cherries grow downtown, or a dark and rainy place conjured by the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.”

“We have not told our story from airplanes to cherries to cloud connectivity to hay,” she said.

But her most important job, Gregoire said, is being a grandmother and babysitting two granddaughters every Friday. The job will expand when a grandson arrives in July.

With all that on her plate, Gregoire, who is 69, was asked if she would accept a job in a new Clinton administration if the Democratic nominee wins the presidential election in November and calls in December? She had similar conversations several years ago with President Obama and the answer would be the same, she said.

“Only if I feel passionate about it,” she said. “It would depend on if I thought I could truly make a difference.”