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Harriet Spanel has passed on

By On
• In People,

Harriett Spanel died yesterday. She was only 77 but had been dealing with some health issues the past few years. She still had the energy and desire for politics.

The Bellingham Herald's Dean Kahn is on the story and will not doubt expand what is so far posted. Dean knew her and that is when he does best.

I worked with her in the early 1990s when she pushed through legislation to reform Ports in Washington State. She is responsible for our now electing commissioners to four year terms - while before it was six years. They are now more accountable to the citizens. She also got the option to go for five commissioners passed. She was very concerned with local port issues. She was one of those who publically chastized the port commissioners when they fired executive director Charlie Sheldon a few years ago.

Many of us local actists and civic minded persons have worked with her. She was what a politician should be - one who enjoyed working with people, listening and learning and then being fearless in pushing for practical change. And she had integrity with even those across the aisle willing to work with her on bills. One of her mentors was Barney Goltz who was a master legislator and respected politician in the 1970s and 1980s before Harriet.

Briefly, she was raised in Iowa, came to Bellingham in the 1960s, got involved in local and neighborhood issues, and then ran for election to the state legislature in 1986. She won and served first as a representative and later a senator until she retired in at the end of 2008. She very well served all the citizens of Whatcom and Skagit counties. We will miss her.

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Bob Aegerter

Feb 03, 2016

Harriet will be very much missed.  We first met her following a comment in the early 1970’s by our grade school son who announced at dinner that his school friend Phil Spanel knew his Grandpa Lindahl.  Harriet and her sister had attended Iowa State University where Dr Clarence Lindahl taught mathematics.  A friendship endured.

When we returned to Whatcom County in 2003 she was a mentor for my introduction to volunteer citizen activist lobbying of the State Legislature.
She will be missed by the Aegerters.

Bob Aegerter


Sherilyn Wells

Feb 03, 2016

Every once in awhile, you meet someone who impresses you with a combination of intelligence, integrity, an open mind, a willingness to listen, and a passion for doing what’s right, in contrast to sliding by with what’s expedient and self-serving.  You’re twice as lucky if that person happens to be an elected politician in your region.  Harriet was all that and so much more.  As an activist who worked on issues that could be polarizing, I noticed which of the legislators always remained available to hearing new information and which ones distanced themselves, seeking the wet-finger-in-the-wind zone, if the issues were heating up.  Harriet had the courage to keep her door open to everyone.  She might or might not agree with you in the end, but getting a fair hearing goes a long way in an era when backroom decisions are revealed to be modus operandi for so many.  The rest of the lyrics might not apply, but Aretha belting out R E S P E C T is a fitting paean to what Harriet earned by simply staying true to who she was.  Fair winds and following seas, Harriet.  May those who follow in your footsteps live up to the high standards from which you never deviated.


Marian Beddill

Feb 03, 2016

I, too, had great respect and admiration for Harriet Spanel. Easy to talk to. And when I was tracking legislature votes, she would be on the side of an issue where I was.


David Camp

Feb 04, 2016

I first met Harriet when I was admiring the fine house she was building in Sehome. Subsequently, we visited on Port issues. A fine lady, outgoing and confident (never arrogant), smart and neighborly, a leader who epitomised civic virtue. Gone the way of all flesh but her quiet inclusive leadership lives on in myriad ways.

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