If you hike up to the alpine meadows near Mowich Lake on Mount Rainier, you'll see the fruits, or at least the flowers, of Adele Inslee's...

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WASHINGTON — If you hike up to the alpine meadows near Mowich Lake on Mount Rainier, you’ll see the fruits, or at least the flowers, of Adele Inslee’s passion.

The seeds she planted there in the 1960s and 1970s have sprouted in many ways since then. Adele Brown Inslee was 78 when she died Tuesday. Her name may be familiar because her husband, Frank, was a popular biology teacher and coach in the Seattle area. She had three sons, Todd, Frank Jr., and Jay, the last of whom is a Democratic congressman from Bainbridge Island.

Adele was a contestant in the Mrs. Washington pageant in the mid-1950s, representing the Greenwood neighborhood. One spring, a Seafair pirate captain pushed through crowds to grab her. He flung her over his shoulder and carried her off, leaving Jay, then a toddler, terrified he would never see his mother again.

Adele was not political, but in her own way, was an activist. She and Frank led packs of high-school kids in the Student Conservation Association every summer to Mount Rainier, where they restored meadows, cleared trails, removed brush and planted trees. Some of the shelters they built for hikers and campers are still standing.

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Her husband and son Todd were talking about their Rainier adventures with me, and suddenly it was obvious how Adele had molded Jay into an environmentalist.

In D.C., too many politicians latch onto cause célèbres. It is comforting to see family ties make some causes real.

Rep. Norm Dicks’ father, Horace, who died in 2001, used to take the family for picnics at Hood Canal, where he taught his son to fish. These days, Dicks, D-Bremerton, is a leading advocate of cleaning up waters such as Hood Canal.

Roseanna McDermott was a Christian who thought taking care of the poor and needy was just what you did.

One frozen night when her son Jim was a youngster, she and her husband took in an elderly couple who had no heat. She volunteered Jim’s bed, the living-room couch, for them to sleep on. Until Roseanna died at 97 in January, she was writing checks to missionary groups in the developing world.

For years, Jim McDermott, Seattle’s liberal Democratic congressman, has railed against poverty and hunger in Africa, way ahead of the celebrity pack who belatedly discovered the continent.

After a week in which I watched congressional debaters from both parties parrot talking points they could not pronounce on issues they could not explain, it is nice to be reminded that sometimes politicians embrace ideas not because they are popular, but because they matter.

Because their parents got to them before the pollsters did.

Adele and Frank Inslee produced three sons, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. They were married 58 years. Their legacy will last even longer.

Letter from Washington is an examination of the culture of politics and power in the nation’s capital. Alicia Mundy can be reached at 202-622-7457 or at amundy@seattletimes.com.

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