Former state Sen. Nathaniel "Nat" Washington, a distant relative of the nation's first president who found a way to finance two major hydroelectric...

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BELLINGHAM — Former state Sen. Nathaniel “Nat” Washington, a distant relative of the nation’s first president who found a way to finance two major hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River, is dead at 93.

Mr. Washington, a Democrat, spent 30 years in the Legislature and worked across party lines to win funds for farm-to-market roads in his Central Washington district. He died after a brief illness Aug. 18 in Bellingham, where he resided for the past two years, his son, Tom F. Washington, of Kirkland, confirmed on Wednesday.

A direct descendant of George Washington’s brother John, Nat Washington treasured the family connection and worked to debunk the first U.S. president’s stuffy reputation.

In addition to politics and practicing law, he taught archaeology and political science at Gonzaga University in Spokane and made himself an expert in Grant County history, interviewing tribal elders on their memories of growing up before reservations were established.

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His father, also named Nathaniel, and grandfather left Virginia in 1908 to homestead along the Columbia River. His father later became Grant County prosecutor.

Mr. Washington was elected student-body president at the University of Washington, where he also earned a law degree before returning to Ephrata and winning election as county prosecutor. He later served a two-year term in the state House and seven terms in the state Senate, retiring from the Legislature in 1979.

In 1947, Mr. Washington and law partner Jim Wickwire became attorneys for the Grant County Public Utilities District (PUD).

By the early 1950s, he had assumed a principal role in finding a way to finance the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams on the Columbia River.

To sell construction bonds at a favorable rate, Mr. Washington arranged for the PUD to rely on the financial strength and credit-worthiness of other utilities that contracted to purchase electricity generated at the dams. Next he fought off a competing state application for both sites in a case that went to the state Supreme Court.

“You take out the PUD from Grant County and we wouldn’t have anything here,” Ephrata City Administrator Wes Crago said. “Just about all of us owe a lot to our forefathers at the PUD, and Nat was one of those primary leaders of the PUD at that time.”

Other survivors include son Nat Jr., of Bellingham; sister Glenora of Las Cruces, N.M.; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled Saturday at Ephrata High School.

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