Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, who served two terms from 1956 to 1964 before spending 40 more years as an attorney, died Saturday. He was 91.
Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton was the nice-guy politician, a fresh-faced charmer who presided over the city during the 1962 World’s Fair, the construction of the Monorail and the Space Needle, and helped jump-start the metro council that eventually oversaw cleanup of Lake Washington.
Even before he ran for office in the mid-1950s, his résumé fairly screamed Mr. Clean. He’d already been an FBI agent, an officer in the U.S. Navy who served in the Pacific during World War II, a municipal-court judge and a deputy prosecutor in King County. When he brought his brand of Eisenhower-era professionalism to City Hall, Mayor Clinton was still just in his late 30s.
“Gordy was just a straight arrow — straight as you could be,” said his law partner James Anderson, who would go on to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court. “He almost seemed too good to be true in many respects. But he was a decent, decent, honorable man.”
The two-term mayor who served from 1956 to 1964 before spending 40 more years as an attorney died Saturday (Nov. 19), a week and a half after suffering a stroke. He was 91.
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Mayor Mike McGinn on Tuesday ordered flags on city property to be flown at half staff, in honor of his predecessor.
“Seattle has lost one of its leaders,” McGinn said in a statement. “Former Mayor Gordon Clinton had a vision for our city and its future in the world.”
That vision was shaped by the aftermath of the war, by his Methodist upbringing, and by an innate sense of fairness.
Mayor Clinton didn’t drink or smoke and rarely if ever spoke ill of anyone. He ran the city during a period of relative prosperity, building a $7 million municipal building and the power-generating Boundary Dam on the Pend Oreille River.
For the most part, Anderson said, “Gordy ran a very quiet city.”
Born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Clinton was a descendant of an early governor of New York. His family settled in Seattle, where he attended Bryant Elementary School and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He went on to the University of Washington law school and would later attend Harvard’s business school.
When he finally ran for mayor, he ousted an incumbent, Allan Pomeroy — a feat that wouldn’t be repeated until Greg Nickels unseated Paul Schell in 2001. He would later tell the Washington News Council, in a video posted on YouTube, that the city-council members were each old enough to be his father.
He was proud that the city oversaw the World’s Fair without going heavy into debt. He eagerly followed President Eisenhower’s advice to try to be a man of peace in the aftermath of war. He established the city’s first human-rights commission, according to HistoryLink.org, the online Washington history encyclopedia. And he helped create Seattle’s first sister-city relationship, with Kobe, Japan.
“He was a very respected man, and very proud of his time as mayor,” said his daughter, Deborah Ruth Clinton-Bailey. “He believed and acted on what he thought was right.”
After leaving office, Mayor Clinton returned to practicing law and would go on to represent several Asian consulates. He remained active in politics and civic organizations and in his church.
Even later in life he wasn’t lacking in political skills.
“It was fun to watch him work a room,” said Joy Pettersen, who managed the office in his law firm for decades after he was mayor. “If we were at any kind of a luncheon or a dinner, I swear the man talked with everybody in the whole restaurant.”
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Florence Clinton; and three children, Barbara Clinton Tompkins, of Tucson, Gordon Stanley Clinton, Jr., of Seattle, and Clinton-Bailey, of Seattle; three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 8, at Bayview Manor, on Queen Anne, 11 W. Aloha St. in Seattle.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @craigawelch.