Hundreds of people gathered at the The Historic Davenport Hotel on Tuesday night for what was billed as an “Epic Celebration of George Nethercutt.”
The former Republican congressman, who unseated Speaker of the House Tom Foley in 1994, also was recognized as an attorney, author, columnist, philanthropist, family man and proud Washington State University alumnus.
Those gathered to honor him included politicians, business owners and members of his book club. The event was led by his former press secretary, Tom McArthur, who spoke briefly of his time with the congressman.
Several people shared fond memories they had with Nethercutt and praised the work he did over the years as an aide and then chief of staff to Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, as an attorney who specialized in adoptions, and then as a congressman from 1995 to 2005.
Longtime friend Eric Johnson organized the event. “It’s his 76th birthday in the fall, and who shouldn’t be celebrated at least once in their life?” Johnson said.
As people gathered, Nethercutt sat next to his wife, Mary Beth, son Elliott and daughter Meredith. He marveled at all the people who had shown up. “I didn’t know who was coming,” he said. “These are dear friends from over the years.”
Nethercutt said he’s been spending his time writing columns for local and national newspapers and is about to publish his second book, “Saving Patriotism.”
“It’s about what patriotism was, what it is and what it will be,” he said. “There’s nothing like it on the market.”
He’s older and grayer than people might remember from his time in Congress, but Nethercutt said he’s doing well.
“I had a heart attack in February, but I’m OK,” he said. “I had two stents put in.”
When Johnson took the stage, he spoke emotionally to Nethercutt.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to show you what you mean to us,” he said.
David Warren shared stories of their time together in the Sigma Nu fraternity at WSU, where the two were roommates and once got in trouble for an illicit popcorn machine in their room. He called Nethercutt a “remarkable, honorable and fascinating person.”
“I’m honored to call him a friend, a colleague and a Sigma Nu brother,” he said.
Richard Kuhling, a fellow attorney, met Nethercutt in the late 1980s when the two were opposing counsel in the same case. They became friends after, and Kuhling said he vividly remembers the moment Nethercutt said he wanted to run for Congress. Kuhling said he was dubious about taking on the sitting speaker of the House, but then realized that Nethercutt had deep roots in Spokane and could compete against Foley. “This is George,” he thought at the time.
Kuhling, who would become Nethercutt’s campaign chairman, recalled Nethercutt and Foley’s first campaign debate.
“He went toe to toe with Tom Foley for two hours,” he said. “I think that night changed everything. The rest is history.”
Kuhling said Nethercutt always worked hard in D.C. and was prepared.
“George, you really worked hard for us,” he said. “You represented us with such honesty and integrity. You’re what a great politician is. We all thank you.”
KXLY meteorologist Kris Crocker, who has adopted two daughters from China with her husband, said she wanted to bring light to Nethercutt’s work as an adoption attorney for 18 years.
“He helped unite 2,000 families in those 18 years, more than 100 adoptions a year,” she said. “That is powerful, important work.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington sent video messages. Murray noted that she and Nethercutt weren’t in the same political party, but often worked together to appropriate money for Washington projects.
“There was never any doubt that George cared about the people of the 5th District and our state,” she said. “Thank you, George, for all you’ve done.”
At the end of the night Nethercutt spoke briefly, thanking people who had been his friends for years and helped in his campaigns.
He recalled how Tom Foley had called him to tell him he wouldn’t ask for a recount of the election results, even though Nethercutt won by less than 1 percentage point.
“Tom had every right in the world to have a recount,” he said.
He thanked his wife, whom he called the “love of his life.” “I want to thank you all for coming tonight,” he said before a long standing ovation swept the room.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on March 4, 2020 to correct the spelling of Nethercutt’s former press secretary Tom McArthur.
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