Life sent him plenty of challenges: family tragedy near the beginning, Parkinsons 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 state Legislatures 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 Parkinsons.
Were very sad to lose my father, who had been struggling with a difficult disease for many years, but we are relieved to know that hes at rest now and his fight is done, said Gardners daughter, Gail Gant, who oversaw his care in his final years.
The family said arrangements for a public memorial service in Tacoma will be announced soon.
Elected in 1984, Gardner served as Washingtons 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 wasnt entirely in charge of the company known as state government, he sometimes 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 thats 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 eight years as governor.
Gregarious and flirtatious, Gardner would meet people, learn a detail about their lives and later 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.
Friends remember a sly sense of humor.
At one campaign stop recalled by former Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, Gardner shared the stage with opponent Larry Faulk, with whom he had sparred so many times they could have recited each others lines. So Gardner did just that and gave his rivals speech.
ON THE TRAIL
Yet at times, he was shy about even asking people for money and for votes. And despite his mastery of one-on-one politicking, Baarsma said, Gardner with his distinctive high-pitched voice could be uncomfortable speaking to large groups.
Campaign manager Ron Dotzauer learned just how deep his bosss loathing of campaigning went when he got a call from Gardners driver, a former Washington State Patrol trooper.
He said, Booths not going to get out of the car. Hes not going to go to the event, Dotzauer said.
After letting loose an expletive or two, Dotzauer was able to cajole Gardner into going.
But there were meetings he skipped, such as his rehearsals for the first debate with his rival for the 1984 Democratic nomination for governor, Jim McDermott.
He got his rear end handed to him at that first debate, Dotzauer recalled.
But the defeat, combined with Gardners competitive fire, motivated him to change.
A couple hours after the debate, Booth comes walking into my office, Dotzauer recalled. He sits down in a chair in front of my desk, rather sheepishly I might add. He says: OK. Im ready now.
The Pierce County executive had such a low statewide profile in 1983 as he readied his run for governor that his campaign printed up buttons with the slogan, Booth Who?
But he toppled the favorite in the primary, McDermott, and then 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. It didnt help Spellmans re-election campaign that it originally focused on McDermott as his likely opponent.
Gardner was able to campaign as an outsider touting his business acumen, inoculating him to some degree against taking stands on issues.
I didnt 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.
Four years later, Gardner won re-election in a landslide against a Republican state lawmaker, Bob Williams of Longview.
Like other former rivals, Williams has nothing but good to say about Gardner so open to hearing all sides, he said, that he invited Williams over to the governors office one snowy day in Olympia after other appointments were canceled, just to sit around and talk.
Gardners last campaign was not for any office.
He had learned he had Parkinsons in the mid-1990s, soon after leaving the governors mansion, while living in Switzerland as the U.S. ambassador to what is now the World Trade Organization. Over the next years, he lost control over many of his motor functions, and worried he would lose control of his fate.
Gardner argued that patients should have a right to assisted suicide. In 2008, he sponsored the so-called Death with Dignity initiative, modeled after the first law of its kind in Oregon.
It later would be the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary. In the film, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, he described thinking constantly about when he would die. But in 2010, he said: I dont think about dying any more.
But, he added, I always go to the base, that people ought to have the right to choose.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure.
In 2011, according to the most recent available data, 103 people obtained medication to end their lives, and at least 70 took the lethal dose.
To obtain the medication, patients must be terminally ill with just six months to live. Parkinsons patients dont get such a timetable so Gardner wasnt eligible to take advantage of the law.
William Booth Gardner was born Aug. 21, 1936, at Tacoma General Hospital, the scion of two families with a lineage in Washington: the Gardners of Tacoma and the wealthier Booths of Seattle.
His father Bryson, known as Brick, was an alcoholic who often was cruel to his son, according to Booth Gardners biographer, John C. Hughes. He spent most of his childhood living with his father, who later would die in a drunken attempt to scale a hotel balcony when the younger Gardner was not yet 30.
But another man would be more crucial to Gardners later business and political success. As his parents strained marriage fell apart, his mother Evelyn met Norton Clapp, heir to a timber-industry fortune and later Weyerhaeuser CEO. They married when Booth was 4, soon after Evelyn and Bricks divorce was final.
When Gardner was just 14, and attending Clover Park Junior High in Lakewood before graduating from Seattles Lakeside School, his mother and sister flew to a flower show in Santa Barbara, Calif., where his mother was to receive a prize for an orchid. Their twin-engine airplane crashed in the Santa Ynez Mountains, killing both.
That event had a greater effect on me than anything else in my life, before or after, Gardner told Hughes. I felt alone in the world and that I was somehow responsible for all of this.
It also left him with an inheritance that made him a millionaire.
And it strengthened his bond with Clapp, who would later hire Gardner to run his company and help him on his campaigns, even though Clapp was a Republican at odds with some of Gardners politics.
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 Seattles poor Central Area kids like future rocker Jimi Hendrix.
Gardner often was described as uncomfortable with his wealth and frugal.
There was his lifelong penchant for fast food such as Tacomas Frisko Freeze, a habit that paired well with Gardners being an exercise nut, until he was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. (Even then, Gardner didnt always follow doctors 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 her husbands 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 dont know why. Maybe he felt guilty.
Gardner earned his bachelors degree from UW in business administration, then a master of business administration from Harvard University. After a stint as director of the University of Puget Sounds business school, Gardner entered politics by unseating a state senator, Faulk.
He stepped down without finishing his full term after taking the job at Clapps firm. Some thought 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, voters approved a new county charter including a county executive.
They elected Gardner as the first to hold the job.
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 also was because Gardner reduced the county workforce, froze pay and reduced the number of county cars taken home by sheriffs 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 Gardners business acumen, helped him make his case to become governor.
LEGACY AS GOVERNOR
Gardner won plaudits for being an effective administrator. He touted his strategy of Management By Walking Around, making frequent trips to state offices to talk to employees.
Beyond style, he could tick off an impressive array of accomplishments. He pushed for and won a cigarette tax to fund cleanup of the Puget Sound. Early steps toward making preschool and health insurance available to the poor were taken on his watch.
He signed the Growth Management Act, regulating land use, and the law making Washington the first state in the nation to lock up violent sex offenders who had served their prison sentences. They would be confined at the Special Commitment Center, later to find a home on McNeil Island.
He reached landmark agreements with the federal government to clean up nuclear waste at Hanford, with Indian tribes to set up a framework for negotiating key issues rather than going to court, and with state workers complaining of pay discrimination.
That last deal boosted pay for thousands of mostly female employees, and it wasnt the only way Gardner promoted diversity in the state workforce. He named the first ethnic minority to the state Supreme Court, Charles Z. Smith. He issued an order banning discrimination against gays in state employment a controversial stand in 1985.
They threatened him with his political life, said Denny Heck, his chief of staff and now a congressman. There were a lot of public quotations to the effect: We guarantee you wont be re-elected.
He faced down similar threats from teachers unions. His attempts at education reform included a program that became a national model allowing 33 pilot projects to experiment with changes in, for example, length of the school year.
But he couldnt achieve the school funding he repeatedly sought through defeated attempts at tax reform, including an income tax.
While some chalked his failures up to an inability or unwillingness to play the legislative game, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray disputes that perception.
I never saw it that way, Murray said. I was just a brand new state senator and had some bill that I was trying to pass and the governor called me into his office. I was just, Oh my gosh, the governor wants to talk to me, and when I went in he said, Well, you have this bill you need passed. Well, I have a budget I need passed too.
After leaving the Governors Mansion, Booth and Jean Gardner separated, and they officially divorced in 2001 eight days before Gardner married Cynthia Robin Perkins. His second marriage ended in 2008.
Gardner is survived by his two children from his first marriage, Doug and Gail, eight grandchildren and two half-brothers, Bill Clapp and Steve Clapp.
Staff writer Peter Callaghan contributed to this report.