Revelle, Randall "Randy" (1941-2018)

  • By Frank Chesley
  • Posted 8/13/2006
  • Essay 7897

Randy Revelle, a third-generation Seattleite and King County Executive from 1981 to 1985, was born into a family with a tradition of public service and politics, a tradition he diligently tried to uphold. He served two terms as a Seattle City Councilman before becoming County Executive. Afflicted with bipolar disorder, from 1990 he devoted his life to health-care reform, through a variety of venues, while also continuing to serve on citizen commissions convened to consider municipal concerns.

Political Roots

Randy Revelle was born on April 26, 1941, in Seattle to George Henry Revelle Jr. and Evelyn Hall Revelle, into a family with generations of public service. Randy's grandfather, George Henry Revelle Sr., was one of six brothers and sisters who came to Seattle from the Eastern Shore of Maryland around the turn of the century. They were six of the 22 children (two wives) of George Roger Revelle a farmer and the owner of an oyster-boat fleet. The Revelles, Huguenot refugees, had received a several-thousand-acre land grant from Lord Baltimore (1605-1675), and traced their lineage back to twelfth-century Crusader Hugh de Revelle.

George Senior and his four siblings had followed their brother, the Rev. Thomas Plummer Revelle, to Seattle, evidently responding to his "glowing reports" (Hanson). Thomas ministered at the Capitol Hill Methodist Church, but quit the ministry for the law and for politics. He attended the University of Washington School of Law, opened a law practice, and served on the Seattle City Council from 1906 to 1911.

Thomas is credited with creating the Pike Place Market, where local farmers could sell their produce directly to consumers and bypass the profiteering middlemen. He was "quite an orator" (Revelle), went on to become U.S. District Attorney for Western Washington during Prohibition, and attained some notoriety by pursuing a wiretap conviction against Roy Olmstead (1886-1966), the famous cop-turned-bootlegger.

George Senior, another minister-turned-lawyer, had graduated from New York University and, along with another brother, William Roger, joined Thomas in his law firm. The other Revelle immigrants were Joseph, a police officer; Caroline, who became the law-firm receptionist, and Mary, a Seattle school teacher.

Thomas's son, Paul Revelle, served briefly on the Seattle City Council (1941-1942) and later as Washington state Director of Transportation. He was most noted for taking on the near-monopolistic Puget Sound Navigation Company in 1947, a confrontation that culminated in 1951 with the creation of the Washington State Ferry System.

A Father's Long Shadow

Randy's father, George Henry Revelle Jr., graduated in 1931 from St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, and earned a law degree from the University of Washington in 1936. In October 1937, he married Evelyn Alice Hall, 24, a Walla Walla woman and University of Washington graduate he had met on a tobogganing blind date at Snoqualmie Pass. In addition to Randy, the Revelles had another son, Geoffrey, who also became a lawyer.

George practiced law with the Revelle firm until June 1941, when he joined the U.S. Army, six months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II. He survived almost three years in the African and Italian campaigns as an amphibious officer, participating in several landings in North Africa and Italy. He earned 13 combat decorations, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Legion of Merit.

After Italy surrendered in September 1943 and joined the Allied cause, George developed a close friendship with the Italian Army's liaison to the U.S. 5th Army, Allesandro Cicogna, and the families became friends as well, exchanging visits over the years. After discharge from military service, George again practiced law in Seattle until 1955, when he was appointed to the King County Superior Court bench by Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966). While on the bench, George helped draft the national Code of Judicial Conduct. He retired in 1983 as the state's senior trial judge, but continued to practice law and hear arbitration cases until 1995.

After the war, he also resumed an active role in the parish of St. Mark's Cathedral, where he and his wife had been lay leaders for many years. (Randy Revelle was also active in the parish and served as senior warden from 1997 to 1999.)

In 1997, Judge George Revelle joined Dr. Rob Thompson and the Rev. Andrew Mullins, vice dean of St. Mark's Cathedral, to co-write an op-ed article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer advocating passage of Initiative 685, a marijuana-reform measure. They said I-685 was a response to the "interminable, exorbitant and outrageously ineffective war on drugs." The initiative was defeated.

"He was quite a [civil rights] pioneer," said Randy Revelle. "He was on the State Board Against Discrimination in 1952, two years before Brown v. Board of Education."

Evelyn Revelle died in January 1983. George Revelle Jr. died in August 1999.

Roosevelt High and Beyond

Randy Revelle graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1959, No. 1 in a class of 740, with straight A's for four years. But teachers remembered him just as well as the person responsible for the one-way streets and back-in angle parking around Roosevelt High, one of his achievements as head of the school's traffic safety committee. "The teachers don't remember the straight A's, only the extra parking spaces," Revelle said.

After graduation, he spent three months with the Cicogna family in Italy before attending Princeton University. He graduated with honors from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1963 and also was a Distinguished Military Graduate in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). He then studied in France, land of his forebears, on a Rotary fellowship for more than a year, living with French families. The Rotary also sent him around France, to give talks on Princeton. "It was wonderful," Revelle said. "I lucked out."

He had won a military deferment to study in France and attend Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1967.

To help pay for law school, he worked in 1966 as a summer intern in the state Attorney General's Office and sold Fuller brushes evening and weekends. While cashing a Fuller Brush check at the Dexter-Horton branch of Seattle-First National Bank, he became enamored of the teller, Ann Carol Werelius, a Queen Anne High graduate and "a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde" (Levine). He asked her for a date and they were married in December 1967. She completed work on a degree in art education, magna cum laude, at the University of Maryland, while Revelle was at the Pentagon. They had two children: Lisa, born in 1972, and Robin, born in 1975. His wife "has always been supportive, but politics has never been her first choice. She likes her privacy," Revelle said.

Entering Politics in the Vietnam Era

When he mustered for his obligatory military duty in August 1967, he lucked out again. The Vietnam War had escalated and war protests were attracting hundreds of thousands across the country, but Randy landed in the Pentagon, on the staff of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (1916-2009) as an editor. "McNamara believed in clear writing," Revelle said. "I had access to all major decisions. It was a fascinating job."

When he returned to civilian life in April 1970, he approached Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) for a job on his staff. Revelle's father and Jackson had attended law school together. He was a family friend and Randy had worked as a summer intern for Jackson in 1965. Jackson suggested Revelle "get into politics" and run for public office. He joined a Seattle law firm, Perkins, Coie, Stone, Olsen & Williams, but "was bored by the practice of law" and took Jackson's advice.

He joined Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC), a group of young progressive reformers, and became its chairman in 1972. He worked on Jackson's campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the presidency to pay additional political dues. While flying home from the 1972 Democratic convention with fellow delegate Bernice Stern (1916-2007), a King County Councilwoman, she encouraged him to run for the Seattle City Council seat held by George Cooley, a onetime CHECC member who had fallen out of favor with progressives. (Of the mentors in his life, those "who had a major impact on whatever success I've had, on what I've learned," Revelle acknowledged "my father, Bernice Stern, [Seattle City Councilman] Sam Smith [1922-1995] -- a fantastic mentor -- and Jackson.")

Youth Movement

Revelle challenged Cooley in 1973 and hired as his campaign manager Duane Woods, a 22-year-old University of Washington political science student from Spokane. "He was a very talented young man and affordable," Revelle said. Woods's only experience: working on the political campaign of 1st Congressional District candidate Joel Pritchard, a liberal Republican (1925-1997). Revelle was endorsed by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Times, Argus, and was the only candidate rated "outstanding" by the Municipal League of Seattle. In a rare, if not unprecedented defeat for a Seattle City Council incumbent, Revelle won -- by 14,000 votes.

His election solidified a progressive majority on the City Council and accelerated the reform movement that was cleaning up Seattle and King County politics. He also was the first Democrat to attain public office in his family, which heretofore had been solidly Republican.

From 1974 to 1977, he was chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee and vice-chairman of the Utilities Committee. He was instrumental in changing Seattle's police shooting policy, forbidding use of hollow-point ammunition. He was honored by Time magazine and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce as one of the city's "Newsmakers of Tomorrow."

Revelle was re-elected in 1977, with 79 percent of the vote, and became chairman of the renamed Energy Committee, self-styled "chairman of the board" for Seattle City Light (Connelly). The municipally owned utility again was roasting in a political firestorm.

Nuclear Power Fiasco

Seattle City Light, the biggest public utility in the state, had been an early champion and major investor in the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) and its first three proposed nuclear power plants. Revelations of construction disasters, horrific cost overruns, and a mushrooming environmental movement prompted second thoughts. In July 1976, the City Council, including Revelle, had voted 6-3 against pumping additional money into WPPSS plants 4 and 5. The council agreed with a citizens' committee that the city should meet its future electrical growth through energy conservation. The city is now in the forefront of the green movement. "It was one of the most controversial votes ever undertaken in the city ... . The papers ripped us apart, the Chamber [of Commerce] ripped us apart" (Revelle).

The City Council majority was vindicated eight years later when WPPSS declared bankruptcy, defaulting on $2.25 billion worth of bonds -- the largest bond default in U.S. history up to that time. The remaining debt -- for taxpayers and insurance companies -- is expected to be paid off in 2017.

The WPPSS debacle prompted Initiative 394 in 1981, which required voter approval before public utilities could issue bonds to build major energy plants.

New Term, New Adversaries

The 1977 elections also brought a new mayor, Charles Royer (b. 1939), a former reporter and commentator for KING-TV, and with him, a new deputy major, his brother, Bob, also a former KING-TV reporter. Revelle and the Royers clashed early over City Light leadership. "They were very green and not effective with the council" (Revelle). During the 1977 campaign, both Charlie Royer and his opponent, Paul Schell (1937-2014), had promised to replace the reformist but controversial City Light Superintendent Gordon Vickery (1920-1996). Royer's choice, Bob Murray, provoked an acrimonious confrontation with Revelle. It was "bloody," said Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Joel Connelly, who characterized Revelle as "a self-admitted fanatic for detail who works a 70-hour week."

"Murray was absolutely unqualified," Revelle said later, but Murray won the council's approval, barely, in a 5-4 vote. Within a few months, in July 1980, Royer fired him.

Revelle and the Royers also wrestled with each other and with other top state Democrats over the Northwest power bill, another controversial effort to develop public policy for the Columbia River Basin. Congress finally passed the Northwest Power Act of 1980, creating the four-state Northwest Power Council, later called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

After Murray, the Royers and Revelle mended their fences and "we had a good working relationship" (Revelle). The Royers also had angered Senator Jackson by opposing his version of the Northwest power bill. Revelle helped patch up that relationship as well.

King County Executive

In May 1980, after another talk with Senator Jackson, Revelle decided to run for King County Executive. He defeated Robert Anderson, former mayor of Everett, in the primary and his general-election opponent was Ron Dunlap, a conservative Bellevue Republican who had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of John Spellman, after Spellman was elected governor. Revelle's campaign manager was Larry Phillips (b. 1956), another Jackson alumnus who would go on to his own political career as a Washington State Representative and King County Council Chairman.

In the November 1981 election, Revelle came from behind to defeat Dunlap by a thin 1.4 percent margin. Dunlap blamed "Republican apathy as well as media polls" which called him a big winner. He also said the heavy vote (58 percent) in favor of Initiative 394, "'cocked' the election" (Bailey). Because Dunlap had been appointed, his term ended with Revelle's election and Revelle took office on November 18, with no respite after an exhausting campaign. He took the oath of office from his father, the King County Superior Court Judge.

Before Randy took his seat, however, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on November 11, 1981, revealed that Revelle had suffered from bipolar disorder for four years. He began experiencing "psychotic episodes" in the fall of 1977, but the condition was stabilized with lithium. He made no secret of his condition and, he said later, "friends, colleagues and the media knew about it." He was aware of the Thomas Eagleton affair. Eagleton (1929-2007), a former U.S. senator from Missouri, was on the Democratic ticket briefly in 1972 as running mate for George McGovern (1922-2012) until it was revealed that Eagleton had had electric shock treatments for a mental disorder.

Dunlap's campaign staff -- though not Dunlap, Revelle said -- had tried to raise the issue, but the media ignored it, though rumors had circulated around City Hall. When the Revelle campaign learned that Julie Blacklow, a KING-TV reporter, was attempting a belated expose, Revelle pre-empted her by volunteering the story to the Post-Intelligencer. Reporter Tim Egan "wrote a wonderful, fair, balanced story, and then I was in every newspaper, TV, and radio station in the state for about three weeks. We received more than 700 responses [from the public], none of them negative" (Revelle).

Health-care Priorities

Revelle used his story in his inaugural speech to buttress his concerns for those living with a mental illness, and he would become a spokesman for mental-health-care causes. He said, "A community that demonstrates active concern for its sick, its disabled, its mentally ill, and its elderly is a strong, responsible community" (Levine).

King County, the second-biggest government in the state, had more than 5,000 employees and an annual budget of about $430 million. Revelle said his four years as King County Executive were "with one exception, very successful, accomplishing almost everything I promised," but others judged them mixed. He jousted regularly with the County Council, not uncommon for a County Executive, but Revelle's problems were blamed by some on his "abrasive style" (Weekly). His admitted workaholism sometimes was viewed as micromanaging, but he:

  • Produced a Comprehensive Plan in 1985 that was unanimously approved by the County Council;
  • Launched the $50 billion farmland preservation program originally proposed by John Spellman;
  • Created the 2,700-acre Cougar Mountain Wilderness Park south of Issaquah;
  • Improved treatment of mentally ill at Harborview Hospital;
  • Increased the county's highway budget from $15 million to $105 million; and
  • Improved programs for women- and minority-owned businesses.

Road Goes Bumpy

Meanwhile, the over-budget, trouble-plagued, unfinished county jail generated lawsuits and counter suits, and three Lake Washington cities sued over the county police marine patrol. Another sticky issue with the County Council was a plan to accept Snohomish County garbage at a King County landfill, which the council thwarted.

Revelle's own "one exception" to a successful term was the Seattle Mariners, an exception that bedeviled a succession of King County Executives as well. Seattle Weekly writer Fred Moody described it as a "protracted, high-stakes landlord-tenant battle," centered on the team's Kingdome lease.

"The Mariners thing just killed us ... . We just couldn't overcome [team owner George] Argyros." Revelle said Dunlap had allowed Argyros to delete a clause making him personally liable for the team. "We had no leverage." Argyros and Revelle finally reached an agreement in June 1985, and Argyros immediately stopped hounding him through the media, but the damage had been done.

Revelle ran for re-election in 1985, and his Republican opponent was Tim Hill (b. 1936), another one-time Seattle City Councilman and Seattle Comptroller. In contrast to Revelle's reputation for confrontation, Hill was described variously as "soft-spoken," "low-key," and "mild-mannered," but his desultory campaign cost him the endorsements of King County newspapers. For Revelle, the Mariners battle and other skirmishes had taken their toll. "[O]ne joke currently making the rounds holds that 'Randy Revelle has shot himself in both feet. Now he's working on his kneecaps' " (Boren).

After receiving disastrous primary numbers, Revelle brought Phillips back as campaign manager, reworked his message, and clawed his way back to make a race of it, losing 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, the closest major election in the state's history up to that time. Revelle returned to law practice in July 1986, joining the Seattle firm of Stoel, Rives, Boley, Jones and Grey, but decided after three years he still didn't like the practice of law.

In March 1989, he joined a crowded field in the race for Seattle mayor, after Royer announced he would not seek a fourth term, but he did not survive the primary, finishing third. Norm Rice (b. 1943), a former Seattle City Councilman who had entered the race at the last minute -- after announcing a month earlier that he would not run -- defeated City Attorney Doug Jewett for the seat. It was Revelle's last attempt at public office.

Health-care Reform

In June 1990, Revelle was appointed executive director of the Washington State Health Care Commission, charged with developing reforms for the state's health-care system, and he has since devoted his career to health-care reform. In 1993, he managed the Campaign for Health Care Reform NOW!, which lobbied the Legislature to enact the reforms it proposed by the commission. The Legislature enacted the Washington Health Services Act of 1993, and Revelle then served 17 months as executive director of the Washington Health Services Commission, charged with implementing the reforms.

The new law was intended "to ensure coverage for essential health activities for all state residents, improve the public's health and protect the financial viability of businesses by helping them control their health care costs," said the Committee for Affordable Health Care. Unfortunately, "it was thrown out in April 1995 by the Republicans, so it never got implemented ... and we have the mess we have today" (Revelle).

Revelle joined the 98-member Washington State Hospital Association in 1995 and in September 2000 became vice-president for policy and public affairs. "Ninety percent of my effort is devoted to reforming the health system, with special emphasis on mental health," he said. Through the Washington Coalition for Insurance Parity, he led an effort to treat mental illness the same as physical illness. The coalition helped push a mental-health-parity bill through the state Legislature. After an eight-year struggle, it was signed into law in March 2005 by Governor Christine Gregoire. It equalized coverage for 1.5 million state residents. In its August 2005 Best of Seattle  list, the Seattle Weekly named Revelle Best Lobbyist for his efforts.

Of American health care in general, Revelle said in July 2006: "It's a mess right now ... In terms of healthy indicators, we rank about 23rd in the world. But the health-care system is so huge and so complicated, and so influenced by money and vested interests, that I'm not optimistic about our ability in the foreseeable future to reform it."

Revelle maintained his connections to municipal governance, regularly serving on citizen committees. In February 2006, for example, he was appointed to chair a blue-ribbon panel selected to investigate the handling of misconduct allegations by the King County Sheriff's Department. Revelle and his wife lived in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.

Randy Revelle died in Seattle on June 3, 2018, at the age of 77.


Margaret Revelle Harron, "The Revelle Family: Seattle, Washington Branch -- Recollections," unpublished notes, undated, Revelle Family archives; Thompson, Revelle, Mullins, "I-685 Smarter Approach to Failing Drug War and to Easing Patients' Pain," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 29, 1997; Rabbi Raphael Levine, Profiles in Service (Seattle: Evergreen Publishing Co., 1985); Joel Connelly, "Revelle -- Seattle's Power Man," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 14, 1980; Gil Bailey, "Ron Dunlap May Take a Job on Reagan Team," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 1981; Dan Coughlin, "Revelle's Record: a Stormy Four Years," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 30, 1985; "The Big Stink," Seattle Weekly, June 23, 1982; Rebecca Boren, "How Hill Beat Revelle (Hint: Randy Helped)," Seattle Weekly, November 13, 1985; Frank Chesley interviews with Randy Revelle, June 19, 2006, and August 4, 2006; "Passages," The Seattle Times, June 10, 2018, p. B-7.
Note: This essay was updated on October 30, 2012, and on June 10, 2018.

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