Before he was 25 years old, Pat McMahan helped found the city of Mountlake Terrace and served as its first fire chief. He went on to serve on the Planning Commission and City Council, helped create the Snohomish County bus system and mentored many novice political activists, including a young Maria Cantwell, now a U.S. senator.
Throughout a life of public service, his family and friends say, his goal was to ensure that government served the common good.
Mr. McMahan died Aug. 21 at home in Mountlake Terrace, after a lengthy illness. He was 83 years old.
Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Gossett said Mr. McMahan showed him the ropes of city government when both served on the Mountlake Terrace City Council in the early 1990s.
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“He thought government’s purpose was to make life better, to build roads, provide bus service and good schools,” Gossett said. Asked what Mr. McMahan’s advice was to his younger colleague, Gossett said, “Listen to others. He said that was key.”
Gossett also remembered Mr. McMahan as a great talker who loved good food, jazz and a good laugh.
Mr. McMahan met Cantwell when both were serving on a levy committee to build a new city library in the 1980s. He encouraged her to run for office and worked on her campaigns, first for the state Legislature and then for the U.S. House of Representatives.
His daughter, Terri McMahan, recalls frequently hearing the name “Maria” accompanied by glowing accolades.
“He told us, ‘This gal is going somewhere.’ ”
Patrick Donn McMahan was born in 1930 in Kansas City, Kan. His family moved to Seattle in 1942, and he attended Franklin High School for two years before graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1948. He spent a year at Seattle University, then joined the Seattle Fire Department in 1950.
Mr. McMahan bought his first house in unincorporated south Snohomish County for $6,200 in1952. The area had no fire department, and he quickly set about organizing an all-volunteer group. Two years later, he led an effort to incorporate the area of about 4,000 residents into the city of Mountlake Terrace.
Terri McMahan said the organizing committee tried to persuade neighboring Edmonds to annex the area, but were told by the then-mayor, “Son, you’re five miles into the country. Edmonds isn’t growing” that far.
Mr. McMahan worried that he couldn’t support his growing family of five children on a firefighter’s salary. He became an insurance salesman and later started his own business, McMahan Insurance Agency.
Over the following years, as the bit of country grew into a thriving suburb, Mr. McMahan helped ensure that the new city had a police department, water, sewers and sidewalks. He helped create Community Transit, the Snohomish County bus system, in 1976.
The Edmonds School Board asked Mr. McMahan to serve on numerous levy and construction-bond committees over the years, including one for the district stadium. Throughout his retirement he enjoyed watching high-school sports, his daughter said.
Mr. McMahan was also an early advocate for equal opportunity for women and girls. Terri McMahan recalls complaining to her father when she was a girl that the boys she played sports with on the school playground got to put on uniforms on the weekend while she couldn’t. Her father agreed that it was unfair.
He later led a group of Mountlake Terrace parents who threatened to sue the Edmonds School District if it didn’t comply with Title IX, the federal law which provides for equal opportunity in women’s sports.
Terri McMahan went on to become athletic director for the district.
“He could be stubborn and highly impatient,” she said, “but those characteristics put him in a position to get things done.”
In addition to his daughter Terri, of West Seattle and Bellingham, Mr. McMahan is survived by his wife, Carol, of Mountlake Terrace; his children Colleen Sederlin, of Coos Bay, Ore.; Maureen Rix McMahan, of East Wenatchee; Patrick Jr. (Lucinda), of Edmonds; and Kevin (Ruth), of Mill Creek; brother Kerry, of Seattle; sister Kathleen (Stuart) Sierer, of Edmonds; and nine grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. McMahan’s life is planned for noon Sunday, Sept. 15, at the Embassy Suites Ballroom, 20610 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes