Goodbye to a father

The Inslee family had sad news today, news I have no doubt weighs heavily on the governor.

On Feb. 7, 2008 I saw then Congressman Jay Inslee campaign forcefully and effectively for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The next night, after a day of traveling from a Barack Obama campaign event at Key Arena to a John McCain rally at a downtown Seattle hotel, I boarded the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry. I was tired and it was Friday. The next day I would work the party caucuses, but this was downtime.

I hadn’t noticed that behind me on the boat sat Trudi Inslee, but I soon realized it as soon as I heard her husband’s distinctive voice. He was on the phone talking to someone about the last couple of days and he hadn’t noticed that he was talking within earshot of a reporter. His tone was animated. He was having fun, as if he were talking to a buddy. He had actually moved a few seats away on a fairly empty boat. I listened for hints of the rumors lots of people had shared, that maybe Clinton had a cabinet position for him if she won. No such luck, so I struck up a conversation with Trudi.

The congressman quit the conversation before reaching Bainbridge and he rejoined his wife. I joked with him about listening for rumors. He laughed along with the joke and told me he’d been talking to his dad. He seemed legitimately at peace. Since then I’ve only seen him or spoken to him in his official duties or campaigning, and his guard has never been down the way it was that night.

Over the next couple of years I talked to his staff about doing a story on the relationship between Inslee and his dad. But the economy had crashed and members of Congress were fighting town hall crowds over Obamacare. The 2010 election was rough and after that we took our time. Then Inslee quit to focus on a run for governor. We still considered the idea, even wondering if we could make it part of our election coverage in 2012. In the end it proved difficult. We gave up.

My interest in talking to Inslee and his dad was probably sparked by a development in my life. For more than five of the last seven years of his life my father lived with us in a house in the Illahee area. It wasn’t always an easy reality for our young family, because my dad, a former cop who also spent years coaching his three boys in the holy practice that is baseball, needed care from us. But even as the work grew harder I grew closer to my father, often pestering him to tell me stories about his childhood. We all knew the time could be fleeting and we did our best to enjoy it. My dad eventually became weak enough that we knew we could no longer provide him adequate care at home and he went to live in a local nursing home. We visited him often, but it will never seem like it was enough.

On election night, Nov. 7, 2012, the night Inslee would learn whether he had been elected governor, my father went into intensive care battling a lung infection that knocked him down. I watched the night’s election returns from Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton as my dad struggled to breathe. Four days later the infection would knock him out. He died on Veteran’s Day.

There isn’t a lot I have in common with Jay Inslee. He’s taller, better looking, is a basketball guy, was born and raised here and has always had a better-paying job. I’m not saying I’d trade lives with him. I’m just pointing out the obvious before I acknowledge there is one thing that we share. I could tell from his conversation he had on the boat that night that he loved and respected his dad, just as much as I did mine. And today he misses his dad the way I miss mine.

I don’t think I’m shedding any objectivity in sending my condolences to the governor and his family.

His official news release follows:

Gov. Inslee issues statement on passing of his father Frank Inslee

Frank E. Inslee, retired biology teacher, high school coach, World War II Naval veteran and father of Gov. Jay Inslee, passed away late Monday night following an illness. He was 88 years old.

Frank Inslee had been transported from his home on Lopez Island to an Anacortes hospital earlier Monday. Mr. Inslee passed away shortly before the governor and his wife, Trudi, arrived to join his brothers and family members at the hospital.

The governor’s official schedule has been cancelled for today.

“My brothers and I loved our father for his boundless dedication to our mother, Adele, his love of salt water and big mountains, and every boating and knot-tying lesson he ever taught us,” the governor said.

“We’re proud of what he did as a teacher and coach, too. He was thrilled by taking unranked high school basketball teams into the state tournament. But he was truly proud of having helped his students build confidence and ambition. Today, wherever we go, my brothers and I get to meet those now 60-year olds who tell us tales of how our dad inspired them.”

The governor’s mother passed away in 2007. Adele and Frank had three sons, Jay, Frank, Jr., and Todd. When he died, Frank Sr. had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and had been living on Lopez Island for about seven years.

Frank Inslee, Sr., was a fourth-generation Washingtonian who served in the Navy from 1944-1945. He began his career as a teacher in Tenino, Thurston County. He also worked nights at the Olympia Brewery, cleaning fermentation tanks to help pay the bills of a young family.

He later taught biology at Seattle’s Garfield High School, where he also served as assistant basketball coach. When Chief Sealth High School opened in 1957, Mr. Inslee became the school’s head coach for basketball and track.

He later served as athletic director for Seattle Public Schools, where he strongly embraced implementation of federal Title IX to usher in women’s athletics in schools. In 1977 he was named the state’s Athletic Director of the Year.

After retiring from the district, Mr. Inslee sold artificial turf and in later years dedicated himself to caring for his ailing wife.

Frank and Adele were active in the Student Conservation Association, leading student trips to Mount Rainier to do conservation work on trails and wilderness area.

Frank Inslee remained a strong presence in his family with strong bonds to the sixth and seventh generations of Inslees. As one of the governor’s sons said this morning about his grandfather, “I only hope one day I have the opportunity to be as tough as he was.”

Plans are pending for a memorial service.

2 thoughts on “Goodbye to a father

  1. I am continually surprised by the quality of journalism and writing ability of the staff at the K-Sun. To take an abstract subject of the passing of the Governors father to a personal level is difficult, and I’m impressed at the kind and thoughtful words that put the loss of Mr. Inslee into perspective. My condolences go out to both Mr. Gardner and Mr. Inslee.
    My father passed in 1993 and this week was his 102nd birthday but I still wish I was as tough as him

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