Longtime Pierce County Councilman Wendell Brown dies at 69

Pierce County Councilman Wendell Brown participates in a discussion at the Pierce County Council study session on July 8, 1997.
Pierce County Councilman Wendell Brown participates in a discussion at the Pierce County Council study session on July 8, 1997. Staff file

Wendell Brown, a long-serving member of the Pierce County Council and a fixture in local politics, died Friday after a long bout with cancer. He was 69.

Current County Council members paused briefly at the start of their regular meeting Tuesday to recognize Brown and note his passing.

Councilman Dan Roach mentioned Brown’s years of service and his past chairmanships of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health and the Pierce Transit board of directors.

Former County Executive John Ladenburg acknowledged the news on his Facebook page, calling Brown, “my old friend, political ally and golf buddy.”

Brown, born in 1945, served in multiple political posts for parts of four decades.

A lifelong Democrat, his political career started in the Legislature in 1978. He served two terms as a representative from Tacoma’s 29th Legislative District.

“I nicknamed him ‘Big Daddy,’” said former County Councilman Tim Farrell, “a larger than life politician that we all knew and loved.”

Starting in 1982, Brown spent six years on the County Council and won election as assessor-treasurer in 1988.

Rather than seeking re-election to that office, he took the first of two shots at a run for county executive, losing narrowly to Republican Doug Sutherland.

After that loss, Brown returned to the County Council, gaining an appointment to a vacant seat in 1993. He held the seat through two election cycles, sandwiched between another run for county executive in 1996 and another narrow loss to Sutherland.

His final term on the County Council ended in 2002.

County Councilman Rick Talbert started his own career as an aide to Brown.

“He was my first real boss as an adult,” Talbert said Tuesday. “He was always insistent that people be heard and be listened to. It’s something I’ve held close to me throughout my career.

“I know it made a huge difference to the people he represented.”

Brown graduated from Mount Tahoma High School. He also attended Bates Technical College and graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in business marketing.

He alluded to that degree in his final campaign for the County Council in 1998.

“I’ve been marketing myself ever since,” he said at the time.

His later political career was marred by a 1997 arrest in Lakewood and a charge of soliciting prostitution.

Brown told a Lakewood jury he had followed a police decoy he thought was a prostitute into a motel room because he wanted to investigate whether the motel was a brothel. The jury acquitted him on the charge.

Brown’s disease forced him into hospice care in recent months, according to those who knew him. He is survived by his wife, Iola, and three children, along with multiple grandchildren.