Booth Gardner Dies at 76; Ex-Washington Governor

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Booth Gardner, a two-term governor of Washington whose diagnosis with Parkinson's disease after he left office helped motivate him to lead a successful voter initiative to allow physician-assisted suicide, died on Friday at his home in Tacoma. He was 76.

The cause was complications of Parkinson's, said Ron Dotzauer, a family spokesman.

Mr. Gardner's condition did not qualify him to use the Washington Death With Dignity Act, which the state's voters approved in 2008. The law, modeled on one passed earlier in Oregon, allows terminally ill adults to obtain a doctor's prescription for a lethal dose of medication. Mr. Gardner knew that Parkinson's was not considered terminal under the law.

"I wish we could do a more liberal law, but we're going to pattern it after the Oregon law because it passed," he said during the 2008 campaign. "We're not going to go farther than that now."

"My goal," he said then, "is to lessen the pain of dying."

The measure passed with 58 percent of the vote.

Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group that helped lead the campaign in Washington State, recalled meeting Mr. Gardner at the group's Seattle office in 2006.

"Booth had not yet received the brain procedures that would later reverse some of his Parkinson's symptoms and it was sometimes difficult to understand his speech," Ms. Lee wrote in a blog post on Monday. "Nevertheless, he projected unwavering confidence and abiding good nature. He looked at us, the supposed 'experts' seated around the table. Then he jabbed his thumb back over his shoulder with absolute authority, and said, 'We're going to have a campaign, and I want you all to get in line behind me.' So we did."

Mr. Gardner, a Democrat who was governor from 1985 to 1993, knew how to campaign. He was a little-known county executive when he first ran for governor in 1984 (his counterintuitive slogan: "Booth Who?"), but he went on to become one of his state's most popular politicians.

In the late 1980s, he signed into law a health care program that provided state medical insurance for the working poor. He helped develop land-use and growth-management policies that made Washington an early environmental leader.

He steered hundreds of millions of dollars of increased spending toward state universities, increased standardized testing in public education and improved legal protections for gay people.

Mr. Gardner served when the Northwest was prospering amid the rise of companies like Microsoft and Starbucks and stepping into the pop culture spotlight as the birthplace of grunge rock.

He was unafraid to seek tax increases, but the Legislature did not always comply, and some critics accused him of backing down too quickly. A 2010 biography suggested his work in office should earn about a B.

"This will sound strange," Mr. Gardner told John C. Hughes, the author of the biography, "Booth Who?" "But I didn't think it was worth the price to go for an A."

Mr. Gardner, Mr. Hughes wrote, was "alluding to the fact that after six years he was burned out from 16-hour days. In retrospect, he realizes he was also showing the early symptoms of Parkinson's."

William Booth Gardner was born on Aug. 21, 1936, in Tacoma. His ancestors made their way to Washington well before it became a state in 1889 and became successful and socially prominent. His father, Bryson, was a car salesman. Mr. Gardner's parents divorced when he was very young, and his mother, Evelyn Booth Gardner, married Norton Clapp, a wealthy executive with Weyerhaeuser, the timber company. His mother and his sister, his only sibling, died in a plane crash when he was 14.

Mr. Gardner enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1954. He joined a fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, but he was uncomfortable there and soon moved in with an aunt and uncle.

His aunt, frustrated that he was not more engaged with extracurricular activities, encouraged him to get a job working with the city parks department. That move would prove crucial to his political development, exposing Mr. Gardner to the needs of poor and disabled children.

He often worked in the city's mostly black Central District and at one point coached a football team there that included a skinny young boy who liked to played air guitar on a broomstick. His name was Jimi Hendrix. After graduating, Mr. Gardner received a master's in business administration from Harvard. He worked briefly at Harvard and in higher education in Washington State before joining one of his stepfather's firms.

He served on several corporate boards, including Weyerhaeuser's, and was in the State Senate before being elected county executive of Pierce County, which includes Tacoma, in 1980.

In the Democratic primary for governor in 1984, Mr. Gardner defeated Jim McDermott, a more liberal Democrat, who was elected to Congress four years later and continues to serve.

In the general election he unseated the Republican incumbent, John Spellman. He was easily elected to a second term in 1988 but chose not to seek a third. He later served as a trade ambassador under President Bill Clinton.

Survivors include a son, Doug; a daughter, Gail Gant; and eight grandchildren. His two marriages ended in divorce.

Mr. Gardner learned he had Parkinson's in 1994. His eventual role in the Death With Dignity campaign shed light on complex end-of-life issues as well as on his own complex family relationships. Doug Gardner, who often had a distant relationship with his father, opposed the initiative on religious grounds.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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