LEWISTON – Talk to people who knew Larry Cassidy and the accolades run as thick as the Columbia River’s famed salmon and steelhead runs in the days before hydroelectric dams forever changed the system.
Influential, tenacious, savvy, tireless, dedicated, genuine and nice – just to name a few.
Cassidy, of Vancouver, Washington, spent his life working to restore fish life and ensure fish and other wildlife remain a vital part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem and human culture. The 83-year-old died Jan. 19 following a 25-year, off-and-on battle with prostate cancer.
He was politically well connected and fond of saying he worked for every governor of Washington since Dan Evans. That included two terms on the Washington Game Commission and a decade on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. He also served on the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Pacific Salmon Commission and the International North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. He was a past president of the Northwest Steelheaders and vice president of Trout Unlimited.
In his professional life, he was president and owner of Flo-Rite Products Co. – an international distributor of plumbing and hardware products.
“Everybody loved Larry. He knew everybody,” said John Harrison, a former spokesperson for the Power and Conservation Council. “He had connections like nobody I ever knew.”
That included powerhouse politicians like former U.S. Sens. Warren Magnuson and Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and former Congressman Don Bonker of southwestern Washington.
During the Carter administration, while legislation that would become the Northwest Power Act was being debated, Bonker asked Cassidy to give Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, a tour of the region.
“I didn’t know him from Adam,” Cassidy said during a 2019 interview with the Tribune. “Dingell gets off the plane, and you know some people you just hit it off with instantly. We just had a lot of things in common.”
They fished together on the Toutle River, where Dingell’s refusal to accept an unearned angling experience solidified Cassidy’s fondness for the politician.
“I hooked a steelhead and I said, ‘Congressman, do you want to play my fish?’ and he said, ‘Hell no, I don’t play somebody else’s fish,’ and that just absolutely sold me on him from that day on.”
Later, Dingell would ask Cassidy about the pending legislation and what he thought should be included.
“I said, ‘Well, Congressman, if somebody doesn’t make the fish and wildlife equal to the power generation, we are going to lose the fish; there isn’t any question about that. We need to have more emphasis and more effort with regard to saving salmon and steelhead.’ ”
Dingell took the advice to heart. When it finally passed and became law, the Power Act put fish and power generation on equal footing. It also created the Power and Conservation Council that Cassidy later led as the chairperson.
“Larry, I think, was a pioneer, a visionary,” said Guy Norman, who represents Washington on the council and retired following a 33-year career with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “He just had the connections and the tenacity to get things done.”
In addition to knowing people, Cassidy had the gift of bringing those with differing viewpoints together. While he was tight with Washington Democrats, he wasn’t partisan.
“He had a passion for the job like no one else and the leadership skills to bring people along with him,” said Tom Karier, who served with Cassidy on the council. “He had no interest in your political party, only in what you could do to help fish and wildlife in the Northwest.”
Todd Maddock, of Spokane and formerly of Lewiston, also served on the council with Cassidy. The work was challenging and disagreements were common.
“Larry was always the one that could sort of bring us together,” he said. “I really appreciated that aspect of his nature.”
Allen Thomas, a retired reporter and editor at the Vancouver Columbian newspaper, knew and admired Cassidy for 40 years and called him “a giant of Northwest fisheries management.”
During his time on the Game Commission, Cassidy was gifted at seeing the big picture, Thomas said. While some commissioners fretted over the number of cow elk permits in a particular hunting unit, Cassidy was looking at overarching policy.
“He really got the idea that politics and budgets and all that high-level stuff mattered when a lot of guys were fighting over small stuff,” Thomas said.
He loved to fish for steelhead and to hunt chukars and mule deer on his ranch above the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County. In 2019, he noticed the Fish and Game Department, while improving a camping area and boat ramp on the Grande Ronde, had inadvertently constructed a bathroom on his property. Instead of waging a fight with the agency, he and his wife, Marilou, donated a 5-acre parcel to the state.
“He was just a heck of a good guy,” said Jay Holzmiller, of Asotin, a former member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and a conservative Republican. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. I would have never ended up on the game commission if it weren’t for him.”
Harrison and Cassidy talked frequently in recent years, often about prostate cancer, a disease they shared. Cassidy fought it for years, but came to accept he couldn’t win forever.
“He knew it was coming, but he was very pragmatic about everything,” he said.
Despite being ill, Cassidy was willing to take on new projects. His latest was an effort to recover Vancouver Lake from a crippling invasion of Eurasian milfoil.
“He was always looking for a cause and every time he got involved in a cause, he made it work,” Harrison said. “What a guy.”