In a 2000 interview, Frank Ruano wanted to set the record straight. He was not opposed to new stadiums going up in Seattle, but he didn't...

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In a 2000 interview, Frank Ruano wanted to set the record straight. He was not opposed to new stadiums going up in Seattle, but he didn’t think that those who develop the complexes should turn to public funding.

That philosophy guided many years of activism that turned this Florida-born real-estate agent and developer into an outspoken and high-profile government critic.

Back in the 1970s, Mr. Ruano helped organize a citizens group that fought a $40 million public-funding package to finance the Kingdome. Then, in the 1990s, he filed suit again in a failed effort to stop a major public subsidy of Safeco Field.

Though he was unsuccessful in purging public funds from stadium construction, his decades of activism did prompt government officials to take a second look at their plans. One of his most notable efforts was an initiative to block construction of the Kingdome in the Seattle Center area, according to his longtime friend Herbert Wolstenholme.

“They wanted to put the dome up by the Space Needle, and can you imagine trying to get 65,000 people in and out there?” Wolstenholme said. “That would have been a joke. But he stopped them.”

Mr. Ruano died Wednesday at the age of 84. He struggled in recent years with an ailing heart, kidneys and back. But his mind remained sharp to the end, said Wolstenholme, who helped take care of Mr. Ruano as he resided in an adult family care home.

Mr. Ruano was born in Florida on Nov. 16, 1920, the only child of Spanish immigrants. He was hired by American Express and worked for the firm in Miami, New York and, in 1950, Seattle.

Mr. Ruano and his wife, Sophia, built a house in Sheridan Heights. He embarked on a real-estate career that included helping to launch Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus and Cattle Company Restaurants and Arby’s in the area.

But he devoted huge amounts of time to his activism, rallying not only against public funding of sports complexes but also in other campaigns such as a 1970s fight against construction of the Firland Correctional Center near his home. He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature, according to his daughter, Maria Ruano.

Mr. Ruano’s views sometimes shifted over time. In 1990, while serving on a citizens advisory committee that made a controversial recommendation to build a jail in Woodinville, he said that his fears about Firland had never been realized. “I think jails make good neighbors,” Mr. Ruano told a Seattle Times reporter.

But in his years in Seattle, Mr. Ruano had a steadfast willingness to take up causes he deemed just. “He was mainly fighting on behalf of the working man — the little man,” Wolstenholme said.

In a 2000 interview with Walt Crowley of HistoryLink.org, Mr. Ruano offered an epitaph to his life in words woven into a carpet tapestry draped over his couch. The credo read: “Vision to see, Faith to Believe, Courage to do.”

Mr. Ruano is survived by two daughters, Linda Thompson, of Brier, and Maria Ruano, of Seattle; and four grandchildren. His wife, Sophia, died in 2001, according to Maria Ruano.

There will be a viewing today from 4 to 8 p.m. at Acacia Funeral Home, 14951 Bothell Way N.E., in Lake Forest Park, and a graveside service tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Acacia Memorial Park, which is at the same address.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com