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Former Wash. Gov. Booth Gardner dies

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 7:56pm  ET

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2008 file photo, former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner stands in front of a painting of George Washington as he talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Gardner, a two-term Democratic governor who later in life spearheaded a campaign that made Washington the second state in the country to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill, has died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 76. Gardner died Friday, March 15, 2013 at his Tacoma home, family spokesman Ron Dotzauer said Saturday. He was the state's 19th governor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

RACHEL LA CORTE
Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Booth Gardner was a two-term governor whose biggest political effort came long after he left the Washington state Capitol.

Gardner, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease two years after he ended his final term as the state's 19th governor, spearheaded a campaign that made Washington the second state in the country to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

While Gardner knew he wouldn't qualify to use the law -- Parkinson's disease itself, while incurable, is not fatal -- he said at the time that his worsening condition made him an advocate for those who want control over how they die.

He died at age 76 on Friday at his Tacoma home of complications related to the disease, family spokesman Ron Dotzauer said Saturday. He is survived by his son, Doug, his daughter, Gail Gant, and eight grandchildren.

"We're very sad to lose my father, who had been struggling with a difficult disease for many years, but we are relieved to know that he's at rest now and his fight is done," Gant said in a written statement.

The millionaire heir to the Weyerhaeuser timber fortune led the state from 1985 to 1993 following terms as Pierce County executive, state senator and business school dean.

Since then, he had worked as a U.S. trade ambassador in Geneva, in youth sports and for a variety of philanthropic works. But he may be best known for what he called his final campaign: his successful "Death with Dignity" campaign in 2008 that ultimately led to the passage of the law that mirrored one that had been in place in Oregon since 1997.

"It's amazing to me how much this can help people get peace of mind," Gardner told The Associated Press at the time. "There's more people who would like to have control over their final days than those who don't."

The law allows terminally ill adults with six months or less left to live to request a lethal dose of medication from their doctors.

The Washington law took effect in March 2009, and since then more than 250 people have used it to obtain lethal doses of medication.

A documentary about that campaign, "The Last Campaign of Booth Gardner," was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010. A biography published by the Washington state Heritage Center's Legacy Project, titled "Booth Who?" -- after a campaign slogan on political buttons created during his first run for governor -- was published that same year.

William Booth Gardner was born Aug. 21, 1936, in Tacoma to his socialite mother, Evelyn Booth and Bryson "Brick" Gardner. According to his biography, he was first named Frederick, but a few days after his birth, his parents changed his birth certificate, crossing out Frederick and replacing it with William.

While even Gardner reportedly didn't know what led to that early confusion over his name, the change to William was believed to be a nod to his paternal grandfather, who had founded a successful plumbing and heating business in Tacoma. Even so, Gardner always went by "Booth."

His parents divorced when he was 4 and his mother remarried Norton Clapp, one of the state's wealthiest citizens who was a former president of Weyerhaeuser and was one of a group of industrialists who helped build the Space Needle for the 1962 World's Fair.

Gardner had his share of tragedy: his mother and 13-year-old sister were killed in a plane crash in 1951 and his father, who had struggled with alcohol, fell to his death from a ninth-floor Honolulu hotel room balcony in 1966.

Clapp remained a presence in Gardner's life, and though he was a Republican, he made significant donations to both of Gardner's gubernatorial runs.

In November 1984, Gardner beat Republican Gov. John Spellman with 53 percent of the vote, winning 23 of the state's 39 counties.

"Booth's imprint on our state will long be seen in our classrooms and the many open spaces he fought to protect. Up until the very end of his life Booth remained a fighter for the issues he cared most about -- those of us who knew him couldn't have imagined it any other way," Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said in a written statement.

During his two terms, Gardner pushed for standards-based education reform, issued an executive order banning discrimination against gay and lesbian state workers, banned smoking in state workplaces, and appointed the state's first minority to the state Supreme Court. The state's Basic Health Care program for the poor was launched in 1987 and was the first of its kind in the country.

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