Former businessman turned state budget architect Tom Huff died early Sunday at the age of 80, his family said.
The Gig Harbor resident had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis since December and had been in the hospital for two weeks.
The former Sears executive was elected as part of the Republican sweep of 1994 and served in the state House from 1995 to 2000. He became chairman of the Appropriations Committee before his first term ended.
Mr. Huff was born in Mandan, N.D., graduated from Sumner High School and attended the University of Puget Sound and Knapps College.
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Most recently, he was the House Republican appointee to the four-person state Redistricting Commission that finished redrawing Washington’s political boundaries last year.
“Tom was just, I think, a gentleman of great integrity and directness that people respected, and when he believed strongly about something, he could also be very stubborn,” said Tim Ceis, the Senate Democratic pick for the commission. He added, laughing: “He cost me my New Year’s Eve celebration because of it.”
A disagreement about how district lines would be drawn in the Spokane and Yakima areas kept commission members working through the holiday, Ceis said, citing the late-night work session as an example of Mr. Huff’s dedication to his principles.
Clyde Ballard, speaker of the House when Mr. Huff served, remembered him as a lawmaker who was passionate about making sure pensions were funded and that the state’s budget was sustainable.
At times, the transition from the business world to politics frustrated Mr. Huff, Ballard said, recalling one day in particular during budget negotiations.
“He threw his keys on the desk and said: ‘Enough of this,’ and walked out,” Ballard said. “Then he came back later that day. He was an amazing person who really cared about doing the right thing. He would really get a little disgusted with the politics. Cut to the chase and do what’s right.”
Before being elected to the House, Mr. Huff was the first chairman of the board of the Washington Retail Association. Jan Gee, the first president of the group, said she encouraged Mr. Huff to run for office.
They were laughing together Friday, she said, at the memory of a comment he made to her as a volunteer lobbyist, before he joined the House.
“He said: ‘Working down in the Legislature is like working on a bucking bronco, and you can’t get off,’ ” Gee remembered. “He had a great sense of humor.”
Mr. Huff announced his retirement in 2000. He enjoyed gardening at his Gig Harbor home, spending time with his family and traveling, his wife, Mary Ann, said.
Mr. Huff chaired the board of trustees for Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. Besides his wife, he is survived by children Greg, Susan, Don and Joel, and nine grandchildren.
A memorial is being planned, and details will be made public when they’re finalized, his family said.