When asked to highlight the life of the late Jeanne Edwards, the description of “ultimate civic volunteer” was my first and lasting thought.
I recall a life that spanned Campfire leadership all the way through a remarkable public life that included a number of years representing her community in the state Legislature. She was a champion for children, her community and her family.
If there were a “wall of honor” for those dreamers, planners and doers with roots in Bothell, Jeanne’s name would be at the top of my list of nominations. We have such a “wall” at Pop Keeney Stadium recognizing educators and graduates of Northshore schools, why not one in recognition of those like Jeanne and other civic activists whose efforts built this community?
Jeanne was “dreamer” — wanting better educational opportunities than she had as a young woman.
Jeanne was “planner” — remembering when she organized the Fourth of July parade in Bothell when no one else would step up.
Jeanne was the consummate doer — sponsoring the state’s children’s health-insurance program and championing the co-location in the North Creek Valley of Bothell for Cascadia Community College and the University of Washington, Bothell.
In composing her obituary, we would write “Bothell civic activist and former state legislator Jeanne A. Edwards died Sunday (June 26) following a long battle with kidney disease. She was 81.”
Jeanne grew up in Colorado, an Irish girl attending Catholic schools, and engaged in lengthy political talk over dinner at her grandmother’s house. Following high-school graduation and on the day or her 18th birthday, she married Bill Edwards, a survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and they moved to Ballard in 1946.
Hers was a 12-year battle with kidney disease. In the latter years of her tenure representing this legislative district that includes her hometown, Jeanne would frequently emerge from a four- or five-hour dialysis session at Evergreen Hospital only to head off for a meeting important to her civically but not necessarily good for her physically. She was first elected in 1998 and served three terms in the state House of Representatives. The disease forced her retirement in 2004.
Jeanne’s public life included work in the fields of communication, public health and education. A Bothell resident since 1961, Jeanne’s first job was at the Northshore Citizen where she handled production assignments and wrote articles for the weekly paper. This was followed by years with the Northshore School District as an administrative assistant, followed by a seven-year stint with the Everett Herald as a reporter and editor of the supplement, “Today’s Living.”
From 1983 to 1993, she worked in hospital administration and public relations for Everett General Hospital (now Providence Regional Medical Center) and later became director of the Community Health Center in Snohomish County. She was a member of Snohomish County’s Community Transit Board from 1995-1999. Upon stepping down as a health executive, she won a seat on the Bothell Council in 1992, then the Snohomish Health District Board two years later.
She described her “proudest achievement” as convincing city and state leaders that the college campuses should be built in Bothell. That Jeanne never earned a college degree may have been her biggest regret. But, all four of her children earned degrees, either at community college or a university to become a nurse, educator and human-resources executive.
“If I could start all over again,” she once said, “I would go to college. If you are going to go some place, get the best education, get one a lot better than mine. I never felt inferior but I didn’t get every opportunity.”
“When I was up in Everett,” she recalled, “I tried so many times to get better health care for children across the state. Passing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) bill was a great thrill.”
Of that accomplishment in 2000, fellow legislator Laura Ruderman of Kirkland commented, “It was Jeanne who worked it and pushed it and pushed it. She got that bill passed. The tens of thousands of children who have health care today are a living legacy to Jeanne, a legacy for the state of Washington that cannot be made little of.” Jeanne said the program had motivated her to seek state office.
In March of 2004, state lawmakers paused from combative debate over education funding and health care reform long enough to pay tribute to Jeanne’s public service. They had just learned Jeanne’s health would not permit her to return to the state capitol the following year. “Kind,” “gentle,” and “distinguished”, were words commonly used to describe her ability to seek compromise and to persuade colleagues to serve the public good. She wouldn’t compromise her strong, Democratic beliefs, but she could charm adversaries and supporters alike with her spunk, spirit and Irish sense of humor.
I’m going to get to work on my list of nominations to submit along with Jeanne’s name — adding Lowell Haynes, Nancy Paris, Walt Sundstrom, MaryAnn LoGerfo and Jim McMahon, as but a few examples — just in case the local chamber of commerce, the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and perhaps the historical society might think the “Wall of Civic Endeavor” a good idea to pursue. How about it being at the new City Hall or in the McMenamin’s new complex at the historic Anderson School?
Services for Jeanne Edwards will be held at 11 a.m. July 5 at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Bothell, with reception following at Hollywood Schoolhouse in Woodinville.
• John B. Hughes was owner-publisher of the Northshore Citizen from 1961 to 1988 and is active in local nonprofit organizations.