Booth Gardner dies at 76; former Washington state governor

Booth Gardner, a two-term Democratic governor who later in life spearheaded a campaign that made Washington the second state in the nation to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill, has died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 76.

Gardner died Friday at his Tacoma home, said family spokesman Ron Dotzauer.

The millionaire heir to the Weyerhaeuser timber fortune served as the state's 19th governor 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 his biggest political effort in later years was his successful "Death with Dignity" campaign in 2008 that led to the passage of the controversial law that mirrored one in place in Oregon since 1997.

Washington state had rejected a similar assisted-suicide initiative in 1991. But after a contentious campaign, in which Gardner contributed $470,000 of his own money toward the $4.9 million raised to support the measure, nearly 58% of voters approved the new law.

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

Gardner knew that he wouldn't qualify to use the law because his Parkinson's disease was incurable, not fatal. But his worsening condition made him a right-to-die advocate.

"There's more people who would like to have control over their final days than those who don't," Gardner told the Associated Press at the time.

Since the Washington law took effect in March 2009, more than 250 people have used it to obtain lethal doses of medication.

A 2009 documentary about his crusade, "The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner," was nominated for an Academy Award.

As governor, 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 first minority to the state Supreme Court. He also oversaw the 1987 launch of the state's Basic Health Care program for the poor.

William Booth Gardner was born Aug. 21, 1936, in Tacoma to a socialite mother, Evelyn Booth, and Bresson "Brick" Gardner. His father was an alcoholic who was cruel to his son, according to Booth Gardner's biographer.

After his parents divorced when he was 4, his mother married Norton Clapp, a wealthy former president of Weyerhaeuser who helped build the Space Needle for the 1962 World's Fair.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave Norton Clapp's first name as Morton.

Early in life, Gardner endured tragedy. His mother and 13-year-old sister were killed in a plane crash in 1951, an event he later said "had a greater effect on me than anything else in my life." It also left him with an inheritance that made him a millionaire.

In 1966 his father fell to his death from a ninth-floor Honolulu hotel room balcony.

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

Gardner earned bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Washington and a master's in business administration from Harvard University.

While abroad in 1995 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In 2000, he launched the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center, a clinic in Kirkland, Wash.

Twice divorced, Gardner is survived by two children from his first marriage, his son Doug and daughter, Gail; and grandchildren.

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