Dean Morgan merged politics and integrity

When it came to politics, Norman "Dean" Morgan was old school: He believed politics should never get personal, that rivals should sit down for a drink together at the end of the day.

He would've ordered scotch on the rocks.

A Boeing lobbyist in Olympia and Washington, D.C., for 20 years, Mr. Morgan helped reform the way the Legislature does business. He was a presidential appointee and, later, an assistant director for the Department of Social and Health Services. He ran his own consulting firm and helped state senators and a U.S. congressmen get elected.

He was tall, good-looking and private to the point that he not only shunned publicity but rarely took credit for his accomplishments, his friends say.

A month shy of his 80th birthday, Mr. Morgan died of cancer at his Long Beach, Pacific County, home Tuesday morning (Oct. 23).

Known for his compassion and photographic memory, Mr. Morgan was an avid outdoorsman. After retiring eight years ago, he and his wife, Gwen, moved to Long Beach so he'd be close to the mouth of the Columbia River, his favorite spot to reel in salmon.

Raised during the Great Depression, Mr. Morgan was the elder of two boys born to Norman and Zaza (Tate) Morgan. The family lived in Offutt Lake, a small town south of Olympia. Mr. Morgan's father was a logger who often came home beaten and bloody for his efforts to unionize forest workers, said Gwen Morgan.

As a young man, Mr. Morgan enrolled at the University of Washington with dreams of becoming a doctor. He dropped out the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted with the 11th Airborne Division and was a paratrooper stationed in the Pacific.

"He came home with a samurai sword," said Mr. Morgan's daughter, Leslie Beeh. "I wish we knew more but Dad didn't really talk about it."

But then, Mr. Morgan never was one to talk about himself, said Blair Butterworth, a friend.

"He didn't reveal much about his own accomplishments — you usually had to find out from other people," said Butterworth, who first met Mr. Morgan in 1965 when Mr. Morgan was Boeing's head lobbyist in Olympia. "He was old school. He never blew his own horn."

The two men later shared an apartment in Olympia to save themselves long commutes. They were political allies and hunting partners. Mr. Morgan "loved this state and he knew it like the back of his hand," said Butterworth, who ran election campaigns for Gov. Gary Locke and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell.

In 1972, Mr. Morgan sold Leonard Sawyer, who became Speaker of the House, on a platform to reform the Legislature. At the time, legislative sessions were held once every two years with many decisions made by interim committees, Butterworth said.

Mr. Morgan's plan instituted annual and special sessions and also created a nonpartisan professional staff.

Mr. Morgan hired many of the state's employees and for a number of years was head of the House staff.

When Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, he named Mr. Morgan the regional director of the Community Services Administration, a body that administered all federal anti-poverty programs.

At the time, welfare was "was not politically acceptable and there was always a fight in the Legislature to get adequate funding," said Butterworth.

Instead of trying to speak for the poor, Mr. Morgan trained a group of welfare mothers and "empowered them to become their own public advocates," Butterworth said.

He was so successful that, when his appointment was up, Mr. Morgan was made assistant director of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

"He was a very compassionate man and he really believed people should be given the chance to make something of themselves," Butterworth said.

Mr. Morgan headed election campaigns for former senior state Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.

For 30 years, he also ran his own government-relations firm, representing tobacco companies, motorcycle dealers and a host of other business interests in Olympia.

"He was one of those people who knew the system so well, had such a good heart and wanted the system to work that people sort of went to him to get things passed in the Legislature," Butterworth said.

Mr. Morgan did not want a public funeral so a private memorial service is being planned for his family. Mr. Morgan is survived by his wife and his brother, Robert Morgan of Sammamish; his four children from a previous marriage, Richard Morgan of Auburn, Leslie Beeh of Bellevue, Scott Morgan of Olympia and Mark Morgan of Boise, Idaho; nine grandchildren and three great-grand children.

Those wishing to make memorials should give a donation to a favorite charity in Mr. Morgan's name.

Sara Jean Green can be reached at 206-515-5654 or