Former Wash. Gov. Mike Lowry dies at age 78, family says

Former Gov. Mike Lowry (Photo from Wash. State Archives)

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Former Washington state Gov. Mike Lowry has died at age 78, according to his family and state government officials.

Lowry, a lifelong Democrat who served a single term as governor from 1993 to 1997, died Monday from complications of a stroke, his family said in a prepared statement.

His principal policy initiative as governor was enactment of a statewide system of health insurance with premiums based on ability to pay. He chose not to run for re-election to a second term.

Prior to serving as governor, Lowry had a brief career working for the state Senate and as a lobbyist for Group Health Cooperative before being elected to the King County Council in 1975. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the state's 7th Congressional District in 1978, where he served until 1989.

Current Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement saying, "Trudi and I send our sincere condolences to the Lowry family and friends. Mike Lowry served with compassion and humility. He had a big heart and cared deeply about the people of this state."

Lowry's family said he was "a passionate defender of fairness for people and the environment. Mike was known as a courageous leader who was often willing to take early stands on sometimes controversial issues, and this courage plus his straightforward nature garnered respect from those in all political parties."

Lowry’s initial legislation in the U.S. Congress was the nation's first proposal to provide restitution for more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and Aleuts interned in prison camps during World War II. Also as a newly elected U.S. House member, Mike fought to uphold century-old Indian treaties and Supreme Court decisions to protect Indian fishing rights.

Lowry also fought to pass the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act. And he worked with Washington's congressional delegation to designate the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which stretches from just north of Grays Harbor to Cape Flattery and extends 25 to 50 miles off the coast. The designation protected extensive kelp beds, whales, dolphins, porpoises, fish, and seabirds.

Lowry was born in the Whitman County town of St. John, Wash., where his family had first homesteaded in 1882. He graduated from Endicott High School and from Washington State University.

After serving in Congress until 1989, he twice lost races for the U.S. Senate. He came out of temporary political retirement to run for governor after toying with a Senate bid when Dan Evans retired after a single term.

He was preceded in death by his parents Robert and Helen Lowry and sister and brother-in-law Beth and Orman Vertrees. Lowry is survived by his wife Mary Lowry, daughter Diane Lowry Oakes, son-in-law Scott Oakes, Grandsons Tyler and Lucas Oakes, Sister Suellen Lowry, Nephews Keith Vertrees and Matthew Hibschman, and Niece Ann Vertrees.

Several other current and past officerholders remembered Lowry on Monday.

Former Governor Gary Locke wrote, "I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of former Gov. Mike Lowry. Mike was a champion of everyday people. He understood their dreams, hopes and worries."

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed, "Mike Lowry was on heck of a fun guy throughout our time going all the back to Washington State University. We had fun when we were in government together." Reed and Lowry were college roommates and Reed said they later teamed up to the lower the voting age to 18.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, "His heart was there every time trying to help individuals, people who really needed help." Kreidler is also a former congressman and state senator. He remembers Lowry for championing expanded health care in the state long before there was a national 'Affordable Care Act'.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro said Lowry was first with reparations for those in Japanese internment camps. "Long before anybody talked about that Mike Lowry proposed a bill in congress that we apologize and pay each family a certain amount of money."

Munro said Lowry's wife Mary stood by him, "I know he loved Mary. I know he loved Mary from the bottom of his heart."

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, "Probably the thing that I remember most about Mike legislatively was calling a special session for the Mariners." Ken Griffey, Jr. and the 'refuse to lose' Mariners saved baseball and Lowry helped push legislation in 1995 to build a new stadium, Safeco Field.

.Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, "Last times I've seen him he looked perfectly healthy and continued to be energetic and engaged and caring about things and people."D

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off