More than 30 years ago, then-state Sen. Jack Metcalf introduced a bill changing the state's Opening Day for deer and elk hunting from a...

More than 30 years ago, then-state Sen. Jack Metcalf introduced a bill changing the state’s Opening Day for deer and elk hunting from a Monday to a Saturday.

He wanted the average guy to have “the same chance to get an elk as those who are wealthy enough to hunt during the week,” he said. “A lot of people in politics today don’t understand how important these little things are.”

The bill didn’t create great political waves when it passed, but it was characteristic of the Whidbey Island Republican who was a fisherman and schoolteacher before taking his rustic style to Washington, D.C., as a U.S. congressman.

U.S. Rep. Metcalf died Thursday afternoon from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, his pastor said. He was 79.

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He was a state politician, a schoolteacher for nearly 30 years, mostly in the Everett School District, and most recently served three terms as a congressman after being first elected in 1994.

Rep. Chris Strow, R-Whidbey Island, began his political career as an intern for Rep. Metcalf in 1990 when Rep. Metcalf was a state senator and Strow was a “greenie” — slang for an intern from The Evergreen State College.

“He was such a great friend and a great boss to me,” said Strow, who went on to be Rep. Metcalf’s congressional campaign manager and aide.

Rep. Metcalf wasn’t scared to break from party lines, and made headlines several times because of it.

Strow recalled when the congressman went up against then-party leader Newt Gingrich over an Air Force contract for cargo planes. Rep. Metcalf criticized House Speaker Gingrich in 1995 because he believed some of the planes should be bought from Boeing instead of from McDonnell Douglas.

Outside of politics, Rep. Metcalf’s story reads like one of an American pioneer.

He was born in Marysville in 1927, but his family soon moved to Whidbey Island, where his father had purchased 50 acres, Strow said.

The family reportedly took a raft from Marysville to the island and then disassembled the raft to build a cabin, Strow said.

After marrying his wife, Norma, Rep. Metcalf supported his family by picking salal and huckleberries. He restarted his dad’s fishing business in 1954 and ran it for 15 years.

In 1974, while without a state office and residing in a trailer, he went back to living off the land — cutting trees from his property; he built a log home.

“Building that place took six years and all the money and energy I had,” Rep. Metcalf said in 1999. “It nearly killed me. But I think in a way it also rejuvenated me.”

With that energy, he went back to politics in 1994 and retired from Congress in 2001.

Besides his wife, Norma, Rep. Metcalf is survived by a sister, Evelyn; brother, George; and daughters Marta Cahill, Gayle Metcalf, Lea Headley and Ann Bowman

A public memorial is scheduled for March 31 at the South Whidbey Assembly of God, 5373 Maxwelton Road in Langley. A time for the memorial hasn’t been determined.

Brian Alexander: 206-464-… or balexander@seattletimes.com