Log in
updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Roots and relationships aided Brunell's 28 years steering AWB business-advocacy ship

Don Brunell's Montana upbringing in a small town near Butte, in a household where his father was both mayor and a union official and his family owned a small business, provided him a unique preparation to guide Washington's largest business advocacy organization.

 

He early came to understood business, politics and labor from the inside, allowing him to put himself in the shoes of those on the other side of issues. His first job, as a journalist, helped him develop the abilities to observe and communicate, and a stint in the early '70s as press aide to a Montana congressman added to his understanding of the inner workings of politics.

Don Brunell

 

His belief in roots and relationships comes naturally for a man who grew up in a house on the same block where his great grandparents and grandparents lived and where he and his brother went door to door collecting 75-cent monthly payments from customers of the family's Walkerville Garbage Service.

 

And the roots and the early job background were important assets for success in his role with the Association of Washington Business, helping chart the strategy for business in a state where Democrats always occupied the governor's mansion and usually controlled the legislature during his years at the helm.

 

I visited over coffee with Brunell to get his reflections on his 28-year career with AWB, which he joined as a vice president and head lobbyist in 1985 at a time when the organization was in disarray politically and at a low point in terms of support from businesses themselves. He was named president two years later.

 

He will move out of his office on December 20, the day after AWB closes for the Christmas holidays, he said, explaining "It would break me up to move out while all of those in the office, half of whom have been with me for more than 10 years, were looking on." And he learned this week that the board has decided to name the AWB building in his honor.

 

But he's been staying away from the office as much as possible in recent weeks to allow his successor, Kris Johnson, who joined AWB three years ago as vice president of operations after 15 years of leadership roles at various chambers of commerce, to settle into his new role, which was announced in early October.

 

As a member of his board from soon after he took the helm of AWB in 1987 through the 1990s, I watched him from the inside deal successfully with the often conflicting political pressures within the organization, composed mostly of small businesses but ultimately guided by the largest companies.

 

But he handled those struggles within the business community with the same deftness with which he dealt with politicians. His philosophy on conflicts? "I try not to second guess or comment on motives; rather just deal with the issues, realizing there are differences."

 

And as the most visible face of business in a usually Democrat-controlled political environment, Brunell frequently found himself in the cross hairs when one of the governors was riled over the business stance on a particular issue.

 

"Most of the times, the calls from the governors came at night after I was home," he recalled. "One night, Booth (Gardner) was furious and I can't remember what the issue was. Our youngest son was about 6 at the time and answered the phone.  Booth introduced himself and asked Dan if he could talk to me. Dan put the phone on the table and yelled:  'Dad, some guy names BOOF wants to talk to ya!'  By the time I got the phone, Booth was laughing so hard that he asked me to stop by in the morning to talk about whatever the issue was."  

 

Brunell had special praise for Gardner's successor, Mike Lowry, with whom he had a close relationship despite the fact that many in the business community, especially small business people, viewed Lowry as the hated enemy.

 

"Lowry would call me at home madder than a wet hen about something, particularly during the 1993 session, and some nights and I just held the phone out at the end of my arm until he had finished yelling at me." Brunell recalled with a chuckle.

 

"So after he blew off steam, I'd go up to his office and we'd look at one another and then we'd figure out what to do," he said, adding"Lowry could blow his stack at you one day and be smiling the next. He never personalized anything, and if he said something, you could bank on it, and if he changed his mind, he'd tell you he had changed his mind."

 

"All of the governors are different, but they wouldcall and we always had the ability to work through things," he said. "Sometimes we'd agree to disagree and move on.  We were always able to avoid personalizing differences."   

 

Brunell, intended to be a teacher but after graduating from the University of Montana, he joined the Army Special Forces, then wound up in journalism as a reporter, first for the Montana Standard in Butte then the Daily Missoulian.

 

Thus he never made it into teaching ranks himself, but is proud that five of his six children are teachers, "and their spouses are teachers."

 

And education has remained a key involvement for Brunell. In addition to spending a week each summer as a teacher at BusinessWeek, AWB's signature summer business-education program for high school students, Brunell was instrumental in bringing the program to Poland three years ago. And each year he has personally been involved with the high school students there.

 

And with he and his wife, Jeri, who also grew up in Montana's legendary mining country, having 14 grandchildren, he's kept kids as an important focus, in addition to education.

 

He brought AWB together with unions, trial attorneys, doctors and defense attorneys in 1995 to organize Kids' Chance, a scholarship program for spouses and children of workers permanently disable or killed on the job and has served as the organization's treasurer since its founding, with a $220,000 seed grant from Walmart.

 

And 25 years ago, AWB launched the Holiday Kids' Tree Project, with a massive tree placed in the Capitol Rotunda each Christmas season where donations are taken to help needy families in rural Washington through firefighters and emergency responders "who have the best knowledge of those in need in their areas."

 

I asked Brunell for his thoughts on the political scene he leaves behind. He's optimistic about the future at the state level, suggesting he sees more movement toward the political center, "which is where you have to govern from."

 

"But Washington, DC, is real troubling for me," he added. "I was a congressional aide during Watergate, but still things got done and the parties could work together on important issues. They knew each other and spent time together."

 

"Today, everything back there is centered on fundraising. It never stops.  It is way too partisan and there is way too much money spent by wealthy groups stumping for causes," he added. "If you run for office today, count on being dragged through the mud and disgraced.  Politics has always been a contact sport, but there has to be a set of rules of civility.  

 

"Also the American people are tired of being manipulated and lied to," he concluded. 

Continue reading
  1254 Hits
  0 Comments
1254 Hits
0 Comments

Booth Gardner spurred creation of nation's first comprehensive treatment center for Parkinson's

It was in Booth Gardner's post-political career, after Parkinson's Disease had begun to take its inevitable toll on him, that he teamed with another former Washington governor whose own brother had the disease to help create the nation's first comprehensive treatment center for Parkinson's.

 

Gardner's many contributions, from his leadership as two-term governor to his high-visibility support of the Death with Dignity Initiative, are being recalled in the wake of his death last week that ended his long struggle with Parkinson's.

 

But those who benefitted from the name, horsepower and personal leadership he brought to creation of the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center at Evergreen Hospital may well regard that as perhaps his most important contribution.

 

This column is focused on the signal impact Gardner had in what amounted to an important victory for him in his struggle with the neurological disorder that leads to progressive difficulties with movement and coordination, and eventually cost him his life.

 

Gardner was part of the remarkable intersection of individuals impacted by Parkinson's who came together in 2000 as a fledgling initiative took shape to create a specialized treatment center for Parkinson's Disease in the Seattle area.

 

Craig Howard, whose step-mother had Parkinson's, recalls that as he and Bill Bell, whose mother also had the disease, began working with Evergreen to create a special treatment center for Parkinson's, they learned about Gardner being similarly afflicted.

 

It was Bell, nephew of former Gov. Dan Evans and his wife, Nancy, who had originally envisioned a Parkinson's treatment center after enduring the frustration of the fact "specialists were few and far between and scattered around the country" as he sought help for his mother.

 

"The idea of creating a multi-disciplinary clinic, where patients could be treated in a more holistic way, by a team, led by specialist seemed to resonate with people," said Bell, who approached Howard about joining in the effort.

 

Bell and Howard had already enlisted Evans, whose brother had the disease, and his wife, Nancy, as initial board members of the then-new Northwest Parkinson's Foundation, when Evans suggested to Howard "contact Booth Gardner because he also has Parkinson's"

 

"During the visit, after I tracked him down at his office in the Norton Building, it was obvious that he was being grossly under-treated for his symptoms and he agreed to make an appointment with the only specialist in town at the time," Howard recalls.

 

"Three weeks later, Booth called and asked why nobody knew there were actual neurologists that are fellowship trained in Parkinson's," Howard said. "He was back woodworking, playing with the grandchildren and feeling back in the game."

  

"He commented on the fact that with all the resources available to him, he still hadn't known there were specialists," Howard added. "His concern was for all those diagnosed that didn't have the resources he had and wouldn't learn that

that there's an opportunity to feel better. He asked how he could help. I asked if we could use his name for the new Center. He said, 'That would be great because everyone else just asks for money.'"

Booth at 25th
Booth Gardner being interviewed at Business Journal 25th Anniversary party, with Mike Lowry, another former governor

In addition to lending his name to the new Center, Gardner became the first board chair for the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation and was a constant advocate for specialized care and PD awareness.

 

Gardner and Evans, despite both being former governors, hadn't known each other very well, but soon became fast friends with their shared focus on the Parkinson's care cause.

 

Nancy Evans once joked to me, "If the phone rings at 7:30 a.m., we know it's either one of the kids or Booth."

 

It was because of my wife, Betsy's, Parkinson's that we came to know Gardner and, whenever we met at a Parkinson's event, he always came up and gave Betsy a hug and he and I would visit about how he was feeling.

 

His legendary sense of humor extended even to his disease as, when he was interviewed at the Puget Sound Business Journal's 25th anniversary event, he quipped: "I told my doctor I wanted to live to see 70. So now that I've made that, I called him and said, 'okay, I want to see 80.'"

 

"As founders, each of those board members seeded the organization generously," Howard said. "NWPF and Evergreen pushed the Center into the black in just over 24 months, but most importantly showed other hospitals in the region they needed specialized movement-disorders care."

 

"Puget Sound is now one of the best places to live well with Parkinson's, with at least eight specialized physicians where there were none before," Howard added.

 

"The Booth Gardner Center, as the first in the country focused solely on treatment, proved to be the model for the nation," Howard said. "And this area remains the epicenter of Parkinson's treatment."

 

Summing up Gardner's contribution, Howard described him as "an alchemist of human potential" in energizing people to produce their best. "Booth had a magical effect based on the possibilities."

Continue reading
  1347 Hits
  0 Comments
1347 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px