Alec Bayless, 69; Civic Activist, Lawyer And Founder Of Vineyards

Alec Bayless, 69, longtime Seattle-area lawyer, civic activist and Eastern Washington grape grower, died Monday after a long illness.

Mr. Bayless, a resident of Mercer Island, was a partner in the firm MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless. He was the first city attorney for Mercer Island, was involved in the formation of Metro in the 1950s and assisted with the Forward Thrust municipal-bond campaign of the late 1960s.

"He became less and less of a lawyer and more and more of a grape grower as time went on," said his son, Hayne Bayless. "He always wanted to be a farmer, even though he started out life as an attorney."

Mr. Bayless specialized in real-estate law; he was visionary in noticing a property's potential worth and was skilled at putting together partnerships for investing in land, said law partner Francis Hoague.

Beginning in 1968, Mr. Bayless put that ability together with his interest in farming and became involved in the ownership and management of vineyards in the Columbia River basin.

Mr. Bayless organized Sagemoor Farms and several other large vineyards north of Pasco, at a time when the state's wine industry was in its infancy. That part of the state now is regarded as the hub of an extensive viniculture in the Pacific Northwest.

"He became a great expert in wines," spending time in France and California studying the art and business, said law partner Kenneth MacDonald.

Mr. Bayless was born in Houston and attended Rice University, graduating in 1943. He received his law degree from the University of Washington and became a partner in the law firm with Hoague and Kenneth MacDonald in 1952.

He was a member of the committee of citizens who drafted the legislation that led to voter approval in 1958 of the formation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, or Metro, which now runs the area's sewage-treatment system and mass transit.

From 1960 to 1961, Mr. Bayless served as the first attorney for the city of Mercer Island.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Bayless chaired the housing subcommittee of Forward Thrust, the effort to pass bond measures to finance civic improvements for the metropolitan area.

"He always had a driving interest in world peace - for 35 to 40 years, consistent from start to finish," said MacDonald. "He was always very calm and purposeful - I'll call him a quiet liberal. He constantly stood for the principles of helping people."

Mr. Bayless was a trustee and former treasurer of the Seattle-King County Bar Association; served on the King County Boundary Review Board; was a trustee of the Municipal League; served as an arbitrator for King County Superior Court and the American Arbitration Association; was a trustee of the Nature Conservancy of Washington, and was active in the Washington Park Arboretum Foundation.

He is survived by his wife, Ruthanna Bayless of Mercer Island; two sons, Hayne Bayless of Ivoryton, Conn., and Edward Bayless of Seattle; two daughters, Marcia Wanderer of Portland and Julie Bayless of San Francisco; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Friday at 1 p.m. in St. Nicholas Hall at Lakeside School, 14050 First Ave. N.E. in Seattle.

Memorial contributions may be made to Planned Parenthood of Seattle-King County, Washington Park Arboretum or the Nature Conservancy of Washington.