Randy Revelle, King County executive from 1981-'85, was called “something of a hero in the field of mental health.”
Randall “Randy” Revelle worked tirelessly to improve Washington’s health-care system.
Continuing a family tradition of public service spanning generations, friends, colleagues and relatives know the former King County Executive and leader of the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) for a career and personal life that were inextricable — especially after Mr. Revelle shared his experience with bipolar disorder in the early 1980s when stigma around mental illnesses was strong.
Hundreds of people across Washington since then coping with symptoms of depression, anxiety or any range of mental issues have looked to the father of two daughters and political leader as proof they, too, can live full and productive lives.
Mr. Revelle went into hospice care at Washington Care Services in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood last week and died there peacefully on Sunday at age 77, his daughter Lisa Revelle, 46, said Tuesday. He was surrounded by friends and family in his final hours and is survived by both children, Lisa and Robin Revelle, and his wife, Ann.
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“Executive Revelle and his family wrote the history of this place,” a statement from King County Executive Dow Constantine says. “Executive Revelle’s tirelessness, his passion for the underserved and, in particular, his commitment to health care for all, will continue to inspire our work, and provide an enduring example of a life dedicated to the betterment of our region.”
Born to second-generation Seattleites in 1941, Mr. Revelle attended Roosevelt High School, later graduating from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, all the while growing a passion for international studies and traveling Europe. He served in the military for three years, working in the Pentagon as an editor during the Vietnam War, between 1967 and 1970.
After working on political campaigns, Mr. Revelle — a Democrat — decided to take his first jump into elected leadership by running for a spot on Seattle’s City Council in 1973. He won and solidified a progressive majority on the council, and the voters later re-elected him in 1977. He served on committees that focused on a range of issues, from public safety to health to utilities.
He ran against Ron Dunlap, a conservative Bellevue Republican, in the primary election for King County executive in 1980, winning by a thin margin. During that campaign, local media began reporting on Mr. Revelle’s experience with bipolar disorder, marked by psychotic episodes in the fall of 1977 to which physicians responded with lithium. He made no secret of his condition.
“He (Mr. Revelle) approached everything he did with an idea of, ‘How can we make the world better?’ ” said WSHA President Cassie Sauer, who worked with Mr. Revelle on a range of health-care issues over 25 years. “He was one of the first people who was in a very public role to be up front about mental health,” taking special time to talk individually with community members about mental health and explain how they can cope healthily with symptoms.
“A huge number of people were touched by him personally,” she added.
A 1982 Seattle Times story — months after Mr. Revelle’s election as executive, a post he ran from 1981 to 1985 — called him “something of a hero in the field of mental health.”
During his time as executive, Mr. Revelle led discussions to effectively manage King County’s population boom at the time, similarly to today’s type of growth, said King County Council member Larry Phillips, who worked on Mr. Revelle’s campaign.
He also changed King County’s approach to conserving farmlands, forests and shorelines through policy changes that current county leaders are using, Constantine wrote. “I am honored to have the opportunity to build on his original plan.”
Throughout his career in the public’s eye, which continued after his time as executive, Mr. Revelle used speeches and public appearances to raise awareness around mental and physical health issues, as well as reforming the state’s health system on a broad scale. He said at one point, “a community that demonstrates active concern for its sick, its disabled, its mentally ill, and its elderly is a strong, responsible community.”
After retiring as WSHA’s senior vice president of policy and advocacy in 2012, Lisa Revelle said her father’s interest in politics and family continued strong. Sauer said she and Mr. Revelle discussed elections and Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts to improve mental-health services just over the Memorial Day weekend.
“As his child, there couldn’t have been a better moral compass, and he was about integrity and telling the truth,” Lisa Revelle said. “He instilled that in my sister and me.”
In place of flowers or donations, the family asks for money contributions to Navos, a Seattle-based mental-health organization, or St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Mr. Revelle’s name.