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She led the revitalization of Tacoma. The city’s ‘grande dame’ died Saturday

Dawn Lucien was a Save our Bridge (SOB) founding member when the historic Murray Morgan Bridge over the Foss waterway was a candidate for demolition.
Dawn Lucien was a Save our Bridge (SOB) founding member when the historic Murray Morgan Bridge over the Foss waterway was a candidate for demolition. Staff file, 2013

She was the “grande dame of Tacoma.”

Dawn Lucien, a civic activist key in the rebirth of downtown Tacoma in the 1990s, died Saturday. She was 91 years old.

“She takes pride in the city, and the city certainly can take pride in her,” her son Eric Olson said Sunday evening.

Lucien led efforts to save the Murray Morgan Bridge when it was a candidate for demolition and to establish the University of Washington Tacoma.

Lucien was president of a group that led the effort to establish UWT in a series of renovated turn-of-the-century downtown warehouses. After the branch campus opened in 1990, Lucien lobbied the Legislature to increase support for the school, helping it grow. In fall 2016, UWT had 5,016 students

“She is our champion,” Herb Simon, a member of the UW Board of Regents, told The News Tribune in 2014. “She’s our inspirational leader and truly our godmother.”

At a 2014 ceremony to dedicate the Dawn Lucien Room at UWT, Mayor Marilyn Strickland dubbed Lucien “the grande dame of Tacoma.”

Lucien was an advocate for renovating the Pantages Theater in the ’80s, reopening Union Station as a federal courthouse in the ’90s and she was president of Save Our Bridge, an organization dedicated to saving the Murray Morgan Bridge from demolition.

For her part in saving the bridge, Lucien and two other advocates won the Alan Liddle Award for historic preservation from the Tacoma Historical Society in 2013. Her other honors included the Life Award and Paul J. Raver Award from the Northwest Public Power Association for notable contribution to public power and for public service.

“She was fearless about corralling local elected officials, knocking them upside the head, and telling them to get their acts together,” Rep. Derek Kilmer said in a statement released Sunday morning.

Lucien was born in Montana and raised in Prosser, according to her family. She worked as a flight attendant for Pan American World Airlines before she resigned. She’d married her first husband, Paul Olson, and company rules prohibited flight attendants from being married or having children.

She moved to Tacoma with Olson in 1947.

“She loved Tacoma,” Eric Olson said. “She called it the gem of the universe.”

She ran for mayor in 1989, but lost to Karen Vialle.

“People liked to be around her,” her other son Kurt Olson said Sunday evening. People gravitated to her, seeking guidance and endorsements.

Lucien served on the Tacoma City Council and the Public Utility Board. She worked in the office of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and helped resolve disputed land claims between developers and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in 1988. Twenty-six years later, she was nominated by Dicks for and won the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize for her work brokering the settlement.

Eric Olson, a retired four-star admiral, also won the award that year for a career that included nurturing the Special Operations teams that killed Osama bin Laden, Dicks said at the time.

At the request of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Lucien was a delegate to the 1967 United National Economic and Social Council.

“While Dawn had some pretty amazing titles ... it is amazing what she was able to accomplish with the title of citizen,” Kilmer said. “She was such a passionate and energetic citizen of Tacoma.”

In Saturday evening social media posts, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist called Lucien “a Tacoma community icon.”

“We’ll miss Dawn Lucien, but it’ll be impossible to miss her legacy,” Pierce County Councilman Derek Young said in a Sunday morning tweet.

In his statement, Kilmer said, “There are very few people in this world who, simply by the potent combination of intelligence, kindness, sweetness, and delicious appetizers, could summon people of all parties, of all degrees of seniority to her home, and make things happen.”

Lucien’s third son, Paul, died in 1999. She has two grandchildren.

No immediate services are planned, but Lucien’s sons said a celebration of life will be held later this summer.

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