At a memorial service in Tacoma, former Gov. Chris Gregoire remembered how Gardner championed issues like the environment, early childhood education and health care.
"His amazing legacy has left a lasting impact on the lives and the livelihoods of literally every single person in Washington state," said Gregoire, at times emotional in recalling her former boss and mentor.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Gardner's work two decades ago laid the foundation for things coming to fruition today, including gay marriage, universal health care and better environmental management. During his tenure, Gardner issued an executive order banning discrimination against gay and lesbian state workers, appointed the first minority to the state Supreme Court and helped launch the state's Basic Health program for the poor
Gardner was the state's 19th governor, leading Washington from 1985 to 1993 following terms as Pierce County executive, state senator and business. A millionaire heir to the Weyerhaeuser timber fortune, he later went on to lead a successful "Death with Dignity" campaign in 2008 that ultimately led to the passage of the state's assisted suicide law.
At the time of the campaign, Gardner was battling Parkinson's disease and pursued the law even though he wouldn't be able to use it because his disease was not fatal. He said his worsening condition made him an advocate for those who want control over how they die.
Gardner died March 15 from complications related to Parkinson's disease. He was 76.
Inslee, who relayed a message from former President Bill Clinton at the memorial service, talking about the impact of Gardner's work on Washington state. Gardner served as a trade ambassador under Clinton after leaving the governor's office.
"Throughout our three decades of friendship, he made me laugh and think," Clinton wrote in his letter. "And he never stopped showing me what a noble profession public service can be."
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who was also tearful in remembering Gardner, said his former boss was a kind and humble man who was un unwavering advocate for social justice.
Along his accomplishments in public office, family members talked about Gardner's private legacy, describing him as a humble and compassionate man with a weak spot for hamburger runs specifically a double burger, no cheese, extra mustard and a medium coke.
Jack Nettleton, one of Gardner's eight grandsons, recalled the many hours Gardner spent driving him to various sporting events. He taught resilience and encouragement, but Nettleton said he remembered in particular the day they stopped for refreshments at a Port Orchard gas station, where a cashier was struggling with an early morning schedule that prevented her from being with her children.
Gardner listened to the woman's concerns and then complimented her smile as they departed, bringing the cashier a moment of joy that caused her to cry. As they got in the car, Gardner told his grandson that everyone is happier when they know they are valued a message Nettleton said he wants to emulate.
"He made everyone feel valued," Nettleton said.