Life sent him plenty of challenges: family tragedy near the beginning, Parkinson's disease near the end.
Still, Booth Gardner could have coasted through much of his life on his family money and his charisma.
Instead he chose politics, and one difficult task after another -- leading Pierce County out of a corruption-plagued era; trying to run state government like a business; banging his head against the Legislature's marble walls pushing an income tax; crusading late in life to change how Washingtonians are allowed to die.
Gardner, 76, died Friday night at his Tacoma home of complications from Parkinson's.
"We're very sad to lose my father, who had been struggling with a difficult disease for many years, but we are relieved to know that he's at rest now and his fight is done," said Gardner's daughter, Gail Gant.
The family said arrangements for a public memorial service in Tacoma will be announced soon.
He served as Washington's 19th governor as the timber industry declined and Microsoft emerged, as the politics of Washington turned decidedly blue, as a state coming to terms with its explosive growth tried to manage sprawl and water pollution.
A CEO-style leader who soon learned he wasn't entirely in charge of the company known as state government, he struggled to handle the Legislature, partly because of a reluctance to play hardball. A columnist labeled him "Prince Faintheart."
"Booth Gardner is the antithesis of a politician," then-House Speaker Joe King told The News Tribune in 1989 in explaining his lack of legislative savvy. "The process is still difficult for him. I continue to think that's why the public likes him so well. He seems like the opposite of a politician -- and he is."
And the public did like him. His popularity never waned through his time as governor.
Gregarious and flirtatious, Gardner would meet people, learn a detail about their lives and remember to ask them about it. His cuddly, nice-guy demeanor earned another nickname, bestowed by state Sen. Barney Goltz of Bellingham in an '80s pop-culture reference: "the cabbage-patch governor."
Gardner's former chief of staff, Denny Heck, now a congressman, said Saturday that Gardner will be remembered for many things, including his "impish sense of humor" and for guiding "an historic amount of progress while never tooting his own horn."
"Mostly though, he will be remembered as a leader whose natural style of civility, respectfulness and collaboration served our state very well," Heck said.
ON THE TRAIL
In his early days on the campaign trail, though, Gardner was shy about even asking people for their votes.
The Pierce County executive had such a low statewide profile in 1983 as he readied his run for governor the next year, his campaign printed up buttons with the slogan, "Booth Who?"
But he ousted a sitting governor, Republican John Spellman, beginning Democrats' grip on the office that continues to this day.
Spellman had served through a recession and while the economy was on the rebound by 1984, he was saddled with the tough budget decisions he had made. Gardner was able to campaign as an outsider touting his business acumen, inoculating him to some degree against actually taking stands on issues.
"I didn't get involved in government because of causes or issues," he said on the campaign trail. "I just think the state can be run in a better, more businesslike manner."
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