Lowry remembered as a voice for the environment, social justice

Pushed for restitution for Japanese Americans and Aleuts interned in camps during World War II; fought to uphold treaties with Native Nations

POULSBO — Former Gov. Mike Lowry, who died May 1, is being remembered as “an advocate for the environment, fisheries and social justice.”

That’s how Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp characterized the former governor and congressman; her office issued a statement shortly after she learned of Lowry’s death.

“We will miss his voice,” she said. “He was a strong statesman whose career as United States congressman, governor of Washington, King County Council chairman and private citizen contributed greatly to the progress of Tribes, to the environment and natural resource management.”

During his 10 years in Congress, he worked closely with Tribes.

“He stood tall in the effort to protect Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights,” said Sharp, president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “He was instrumental in fending off treaty abrogation efforts, including steelhead decommercialization initiatives. He always saw through those efforts, recognizing them as the anti-tribal efforts they were. He supported funding we needed to restore habitat and enhance the fish stocks, and a great number of important congressional acts,” she said.

Lowry served in Congress as a Democrat from Washington’s 7th District from 1979 to 1989, sponsoring and/or supporting dozens of bills, many of which became law, among them the Pacific Salmon Treaty Act of 1985; the Civil Liberties Act of 1988; and the Homeless Assistance Act of 1987.

Lowry served as Washington’s 20th governor from 1993-97.

“As governor, he continued to realize and acknowledge the great value of natural resources and environmental protection,” Sharp said. “He appointed Tribal representatives to state commissions and strongly supported co-management of natural resources. His support carried over to other critically important programs as well, such as health and education. He knew there were great needs in Indian Country and always recognized that by supporting Tribes he was being supportive of society at large.

Inslee: ‘He cared deeply about the people of this state’

Gov. Jay Inslee issued this statement on his website:

“Trudi and I send our sincere condolences to the Lowry family and friends. Mike Lowry served with compassion and humility. He had a big heart and cared deeply about the people of this state.

“Mike led efforts in the 1990s to provide health care for all Washingtonians, and his work lives on today through coverage for low-to-moderate income families. After he left public service, Mike continued to be a force for good through his involvement in many nonprofit organizations and charitable causes, including those delivering services to the homeless and providing housing for migrant workers.

“Mike will be missed, and I know all Washingtonians join me in keeping him and his family in our hearts.”

Lowry’s family: ‘He always cared about the vulnerable’

Lowry’s family issued this biographical information, which was posted on Inslee’s website:

“Mike was known as a courageous leader who was often willing to take early stands on sometimes controversial issues, and this courage plus his straight-forward nature garnered respect from those in all political parties.

“[His] initial legislation in the U.S. Congress was the nation’s first proposal to provide restitution for more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and Aleuts interned in prison camps during World War II. Also as a newly elected U.S. House member, Mike fought to uphold century-old Indian treaties and Supreme Court decisions to protect Indian fishing rights.

“[He] was the leader in passage of the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act. And he worked with Washington’s congressional delegation to designate the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which stretches from just north of Grays Harbor to Cape Flattery and extends 25 to 50 miles off the coast. The designation protected extensive kelp beds, whales, dolphins, porpoises, fish, and seabirds.

“Always caring about the vulnerable, Mike had a major impact in advocating for some of the earliest appropriations to address the AIDS crisis. He also spearheaded efforts in Congress to help the homeless.

“While governor, [he] emphasized healthcare, welfare policies, supportive housing, and in 1995 called a special session to secure funding for what is now Safeco Field. Mike pioneered health care reform for the state and also was active in education and civil service reform.

“A life-long Democrat, [he] had strong relationships across party lines and drew support from people across the state, many saying they respected him because they always knew where he stood. In 1989 he founded and co-chaired the [Washington] Wildlife and Recreation Coalition with former governor Dan Evans.

“After leaving office, [he] worked pro-bono on numerous non-profit organization projects. He launched and headed the Washington Agricultural Families Assistance, WAFA, which is building homes for farmworker family homeownership in central Washington.”

The former governor was preceded in death by his parents, Robert and Helen Lowry; and sister and brother-in-law, Beth and Orman Vertrees. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lowry; daughter and son-in-law, Diane and Scott Oakes; grandsons, Tyler and Lucas Oakes; sister, Suellen Lowry; nephews, Keith Vertrees and Matthew Hibschman; and niece, Ann Vertrees.


Born: Michael Edward Lowry on March 8, 1939 in St. John, a small town in Whitman County where his family homesteaded in 1882.

Education: Graduated from Endicott High School; graduated from Washington State University in 1962.

Career: Chief fiscal analyst and staff director, state Senate Ways and Means Committee, 1969-1973; governmental affairs director, Puget Sound Group Health Cooperative, 1974-75; member, King County Council, 1975-78; elected as a Democrat to the 96th and to the four succeeding Congresses (Jan. 3, 1979-Jan. 3, 1989); unsuccessful candidate in 1983 for the U.S. Senate in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry M. Jackson; unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1988; elected governor of Washington in 1992 for the four-year term beginning Jan. 13, 1993; did not seek reelection; unsuccessful candidate for commissioner of Public Lands in 2000.

Died: May 1 from complications of a stroke.

— Source: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, family of Mike Lowry.