John Spellman, who was elected the first King County executive in 1969 and Washington’s last Republican governor in 1980, died Jan. 16 at age 91. Lois Spellman died nine days later at age 90.
Former Washington Gov. John Spellman and his wife, Lois Spellman, were remembered Monday for their public service, Catholic faith and a devoted marriage that spanned more than six decades.
From the time the two met in a Spanish class at Seattle University in the 1950s, “their fates were sealed,” recalled daughter Margo Spellman at a joint funeral Mass at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.
The couple married in 1954 and remained together to the end, dying within days of one another last month.
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“Inseparable in life, they would be inseparable in death,” said the Rev. Michael Ryan, who delivered the homily for the couple.
John Spellman was praised for sweeping out a patronage system in King County government and refusing to relent on ideals from protecting the environment to pushing for racial equality.
Richard Schrock, a former Spellman aide, recalled him facing down a protest by a crowd of white construction workers, who waved “Equal Rights for Whites” signs, angered by a program to hire more minority workers.
“He did not tell them what they wanted to hear,” said Schrock, who later served as state Commerce Department director in Gov. Spellman’s administration.
As county executive, Gov. Spellman championed the construction of the Kingdome, helping bring the Seahawks and Mariners to Seattle. Ever the optimist, Schrock said, Gov. Spellman had looked forward to the Mariners upcoming season “and postseason.”
As governor, he blocked a proposed oil pipeline under Puget Sound — against the wishes of the Reagan administration — and brought the state back from a recession-driven deficit to a budget surplus.
Lois Spellman was known for her support of charities including food banks throughout her husband’s career. Daughter Margo Spellman recalled her as “daddy’s rock, trusted adviser, debate partner and soul mate” as well as the “Irish matriarch” of a family of six children and six grandchildren.
The couple were devoted Irish Catholics, praying daily, attending Mass and hosting traditional Sunday dinners. “Daddy’s first inclination was to be a priest. We’re really glad he didn’t,” Margo Spellman said.
The Spellmans’ noon Mass drew a bipartisan crowd of dignitaries. Seated in the same row at St. James were former Govs. Christine Gregoire and Dan Evans, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, former Sen. Slade Gorton, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and former state senator and GOP congressional candidate Dino Rossi.
Later in the afternoon, the Spellmans were remembered at a celebration of life on Seattle’s waterfront by officials including Gov. Jay Inslee.