He was a soldier and a former seminarian; a man whose idea of patriotism was community service, even if it meant being a Republican working for a Democrat’s campaign.
Maj. Gen. Gregory Barlow, once the head of the Washington National Guard and a controversial figure in state politics, died Thursday (July 4), his favorite holiday, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 74.
Mr. Barlow was born in Charleston, W.Va., but grew up in Burien, graduating from Highline High School and Seattle University with a master’s degree in administration.
After that, Mr. Barlow served two tours of duty as a pilot in Vietnam and returned to live in Bellevue, where he headed up security for Norton Clapp’s Laird Norton Co. The association with the family would last the rest of his life.
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In 1973, Clapp appointed Mr. Barlow executive director of the family’s Medina Foundation. When Clapp’s stepson, Booth Gardner, was running for Pierce County executive, Clapp asked Mr. Barlow, a Republican, to help Gardner, a Democrat.
Mr. Barlow had the ability to make hard decisions when Gardner would waver, said Pam Henry, a former Clapp family member.
Mr. Barlow’s “word meant something. He didn’t tell people stuff to make them happy. He was really clear and kind. What he said was the truth. It wasn’t sugarcoated,’’ she said.
When Gardner was Pierce County executive, Mr. Barlow was his chief of staff, slashing positions until the budget was balanced. Later, when Gardner ran for governor, Barlow was his campaign finance director.
At the time, political newspaper columnist Adele Ferguson called Mr. Barlow’s management style “Ramboesque,’’ but 13 years later she called him “one of the shrewdest, brainiest, people who never ran for office’’ — but had powerful influence on Washington politics.
Gardner, when elected governor, appointed Mr. Barlow as adjutant general of the state’s National Guard in 1989. When he retired 10 years later, Gov. Gary Locke praised him for redefining the guard in a new role, calling him an excellent commander.
One of the more difficult tasks Mr. Barlow faced, say friends, was discharging Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer in 1989 for disclosing, during a routine security interview, that she was a lesbian. Yet he did so with compassion.
“He had tears in his eyes,’’ she recalled Sunday.
“He had been extremely supportive of my struggle until there was no other option except to discharge me,’’ she said.
When in 1997, a court ordered she be reinstated, “he welcomed me back. There was a smile in his voice,’’ Cammermeyer said.
For Pam Henry, trustee at the Medina Foundation, Mr. Barlow was a dear friend.
“Norton depended on him so much. He was someone everyone in the (Clapp) family could talk to.
“We had long talks about spirituality and civic-mindedness,’’ she said. “He believed in the goodness of people.’’
Mr. Barlow spent time in a Jesuit seminary and was about to become a priest but left short of taking vows, deciding he was meant for a different path, Henry said.
He was instrumental in creating Philanthropy Northwest, an umbrella group of nonprofits, which looks at what needs there are in the community. He helped define the mission of the Medina Foundation and make its presence known in the community, Henry said.
He led the foundation for 29 years, retiring in 2002.
He was also a highly decorated soldier — Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star and Bronze Star, among them — and was involved in numerous civic activities.
“He was never preachy’’ about his belief in public service. “It was just something he did. He would help anybody around him,’’ said his son, Eric Barlow, of Bellevue. “It was just the way he lived his life.’’
Mr. Barlow is also survived by his wife, Eli, of Ocean Shores, where they lived for the past 10 years; a daughter, Ona Steigenga, of Snohomish; and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Paul and Rosita Barlow, of Bellevue.
A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday (July 11) at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 25810 156th Ave. S.E., Covington, with burial at Tahoma National Cemetery.
A celebration of life will be at 1 p.m. at the Meridian Valley Country Club, 24830 136th Ave. S.E., Kent.
Contributions may be made in his name to the Alzheimer’s Association, Western & Central Washington Chapter: www.alz.org/join_the_cause_donate.asp.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522