Herman Dillon Sr., chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ tribal council and a member of the tribe’s governing body for 30 years, died Friday of congestive heart failure. He was 82.
Dillon, first elected to the council in 1971, often served as its chairman, a position chosen by fellow council members. As a tribal leader, he helped guide the tribe through a late 20th century renaissance, during which the tribe went from poverty to prosperity, thanks mostly to casino gambling.
“This is a sad day,” said John Weymer, a spokesman for the tribe and Dillon’s personal friend. “He’s had heart issues for years, but it still came as a surprise because he had been doing better for a while.”
Dillon helped negotiate compacts favorable to his tribe with Washington State not only on gambling but also cigarette and gas taxes and the 1990 land claims settlement. During his time in office, membership in the tribe more than tripled, to about 4,500.
Dillon managed to keep his job on the council through many bitter struggles among tribal factions. Weymer said that was because of his sense of integrity and fairness.
“People knew they could trust him,” Weymer said. “He was a very patient man and dealt with issues very diplomatically. He was a true leader. Every body respected Herman.”
Fellow tribal council member Marguerite Edwards said Dillon’s quick wit served him well as a leader.
“With each council member having different opinions and positions on topics,” she said, “it was with the same wry and witty humor that he kept things moving in an effortless fashion.”
In a statement issued Friday, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland called Dillon “a constant and reliable leader for the tribe and the region.”
“He will be remembered for his dedication, warmth and leadership,” Strickland said.
Gov. Jay Inslee praised Dillon for spending his life serving the Puyallup Tribe.
“He fought to retain treaty rights to fishing and hunting and was a tireless advocate for the social and economic betterment of the Puyallup Tribe and tribes throughout the Northwest,” Inslee said. “And he did that with wit and humility.
Dillon dropped out of Fife High School at 17. He spent four years in the Navy Reserve, then two years in South Korea with the US Army, guarding POW camps and the port in Pusan. He earned his General Educational Development (GED) certificate when he was 50 years old.
Dillon was known for his commitment to helping tribal youth, and he and his wife, Darlene, took several children into their home as a foster parents.
As a council member, he struggled to control gang-related crime on the Puyallup’s urban reservation. In 2006, Dillon’s grandson, Joseph Dillon, was shot and killed by gang members whom police said mistook him someone else.
A memorial service has been scheduled for 10 a.m. June 1 at the Tacoma Dome. By order of the governor, Washington and American flags at the Capitol will flown at half-staff that day.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693