In spite of or because of his money, Gardner had an urge to help the needy from his early days, and he spent much of college at the University of Washington coaching football and baseball for kids in Seattle's poor Central Area -- kids like future rocker Jimi Hendrix.
Gardner was often described as uncomfortable with his wealth -- and frugal. There was his lifelong penchant for fast food such asTacoma's Frisko Freeze, a habit that paired well with Gardner's being an exercise nut, until he was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. (Even then, Gardner didn't always follow doctor's orders to cut back on hamburgers.)
There was the first furniture he bought with his first wife, the former Jean Forstrom -- at Goodwill. And although the couple had a summer home on Vashon Island, Jean Gardner had to hang clothes out to dry and burn driftwood in a wood stove when they stayed there because of his refusal to buy a dryer or range, she said in a story in the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer.
"He always felt uncomfortable in fancy clothes, fancy cars or whatever," she said then. "I really don't know why. Maybe he felt guilty."
The couple had two children, Doug and Gail. Booth and Jean Gardner would separate after leaving the Governor's Mansion and officially divorce in 2001. Eight days later, Gardner married Cynthia Robin Perkins. They divorced in 2008.
Gardner earned his bachelor's degree from UW in business administration, then a UW law degree, then a masters of business administration from Harvard University. After a stint as director of the University of Puget Sound's business school, Gardner entered politics by unseating a state senator, Larry Faulk.
He stepped down without finishing his full term after Clapp made him president of his firm, the Laird Norton Co. Some thought new public-disclosure regulations requiring politicians to report their finances motivated his resignation three weeks before the rules took effect, according to a Seattle Times story at the time.
It was only a few years before he returned to politics. Federal agents had busted a criminal ring involving bail bonds, arsons, bribes and Pierce County officials. In reaction, city voters approved a new county charter including a county executive.
They elected Gardner as the first to hold the job.
"He faced an extraordinary task in setting up the new governance during tumultuous times in our community," said Pat McCarthy, who became the county's fifth county executive in 2009 after being encouraged to run by Gardner.
As executive he pushed a controversial sewer project in Lakewood, and presided over a newly reorganized county government that saw a $4.7 million deficit turn into a $1 million surplus. That was partly because of an increase in local sales tax. It was also because Gardner reduced the county workforce, froze pay and reduced the number of county cars taken home by sheriff's deputies and other employees.
"Deputies used to wave with their whole hand," Gardner told a reporter in 1983. "Now they use only one finger."
The budget turnaround, along with Gardner's business acumen, helped him make his case to become governor.
LEGACY AS GOVERNOR
Gardner campaigned as a proven manager, and once elected won plaudits from some for being an effective administrator. He touted his strategy of "Management By Walking Around," making frequent trips to state offices to talk to employees.
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