Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: A life of service continues for Tacoma’s Burt Talcott, 94

Born in a small Montana town, Burt Talcott was a journeyman carpenter by high school, went to Stanford on a football scholarship, and volunteered for the Army Air Forces the day after Pearl Harbor.

Before leaving for Europe and the war, he married the woman he’d met in fourth grade, Lee Taylor.

On his ninth mission out of Italy, Talcott was shot down over Austria and captured by Germans. He spent 13 months in a POW camp.

“For the first six weeks after I was captured, Lee didn’t know if I was alive,” he said.

Upon his release, he was given medals and six weeks of R&R, during which he met his son, 11-month-old Ron, for the first time.

Talcott was only 25. The family moved to Monterey, California, and made a life-changing decision.

“Lee and I decided together that because my life had been saved, we’d dedicate 50 percent of our discretionary time to public service.”

Today he is 94, and has never voided that promise. Not after he’d returned to Stanford and become a lawyer, not after serving in nonpaid positions on committees and commissions and boards.

A seven-term U.S. congressman, Talcott went to Washington in January 1963 and served until January 1977. He got to know Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and became friendly with future President Ronald Reagan.

When the couple retired, they moved to Gig Harbor because son Ron and his wife, Gigi Talcott — a seven-time Washington state representative herself — lived in Tacoma.

“I joined the Chamber of Commerce, a few environmental organizations,” said Talcott. “I fought against billboards, which I consider litter on sticks.

I was on the Gig Harbor city charter review commission, a few county commissions … .”

It never stopped. When he and Lee moved to Harbor Place Apartments in Gig Harbor, then to the Weatherly Inn in Tacoma, he didn’t put his sense of service away.

“I was the president of the residents’ association in both,” he said.

Lee died in 2010, near the couple’s 68th anniversary. Her husband was at her bedside. Ron and Gigi asked him to move in with them, and he did.

As a hobby, Talcott writes letters to the editor — to The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times.

Gigi Talcott is after her father-in-law to write something that his two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren might find more interesting.

His biography.

“I’ve probably dragged about 100 pages out of him,” she said.

Having lived a remarkable life, Talcott must be prodded to discuss it.

The experiences of World War II?

“I was shot down on my ninth mission, so my son, who flew in Vietnam, says I only flew 8½ missions,” he said. “I was captured before I got out of my parachute.”

Taken to a nearby home, he was offered hot tea and cookies by a kind woman who asked if he had a family.

“I didn’t know if it was a trick, so I just gave her my name, rank and service number, which was probably rude,” Talcott said.

And here’s the kicker: He and that woman reconnected decades later, corresponding across the Atlantic. On the 50th anniversary of his being shot down, he took his family to Austria to meet the woman and her family.

His congressional career?

“I did my work in tumultuous times. There were three assassinations in my first five years in office — President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The Civil Rights bills passed. A president resigned from office.

“In my day, it was about public service, not power and privilege.

“I was a compassionate conservative, an environmentalist, and I was allowed to be independent.”

Sitting at a table with the family dog, Monty, lounging nearby, Talcott was asked recently if he could sum up his life.

“I’ve done a lot of things, had my fingers in a lot of pies, but I consider myself inconsequential,” he said. “I grew up in a different time. The first television I saw, I was in college.

“The most memorable moments in a long life? My wedding, meeting my son for the first time, bailing out of that B-24.”

He glances down at the dog.

“When Ron and Gigi travel, I stay behind and take care of Monty,” Talcott said. “And every time they come back, they say he’s gained weight.”

Suspecting he is being discussed, Monty stands and puts his head on Talcott’s arm.

“Maybe I do overfeed him,” Talcott said. “But who could resist that look?”