When Dennis Richey visited former West Linn mayor Norm King shortly before King's death March 7 at the age of 73, he was struck by a remark King made about his political legacy.
"No one will ever remember me as mayor," King said to Richey. "Because we did everything right, and didn't make a big deal about it."
At least part of that was true: King's family, friends and political colleagues are unanimous in their praise of King's stewardship, and wonder what might have been if he hadn't stepped up to lead West Linn out of a particularly tumultuous period just after the turn of the century.
And that, they say, will never be forgotten.
"Norm was the one who came in and straightened it all out," Richey said. "The City of West Linn really owes Norm a debt of gratitude. We are respected throughout the state because Norm righted the ship when it was sinking."
Much of that work was done in the midst of a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, which lasted 16 years before King died earlier this month. News of his death rocked many in the community, including political representatives both past and present.
"It's hard to believe Norm is gone," said current City Councilor Teri Cummings, who was also on the council when King served as mayor from 2005 to 2008. "Norm was involved in so many things for as long as I can remember. The fact that he kept so active and continued to serve, even after being diagnosed with cancer, says a lot of about who Norm was."
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Born in Yakima, Washington, King graduated from Mabton High School and attended Yakima Junior College before eventually moving on to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Washington. As King's wife, Marylee, remembered, it was there that he first developed an interest in politics.
"When he was a freshman or sophomore in college, he was an intern for Catherine May, a (U.S. House) representative from Washington," Marylee King said. "I think that whetted his appetite for politics. She was a Republican, and I'm not sure when Norm saw the light and became a Democrat."
King also served as a 1st lieutenant in the United States Army and later obtained a second degree in business management as well as a master's degree in agricultural economics from Washington State University.
The King family moved to Shafter, California, in 1978 and King worked as vice president of Jackson & Perkins Rose Nursery. In 1986, the family relocated to West Linn and King wasted little time getting involved at City Hall.
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It all started with a position on the West Linn Planning Commission, as Marylee King recalls. That was when King met Richey, who also served on the commission and found himself impressed with King's demeanor.
"Norm never rushed to judgement," Richey said. "He always took his time, made sure he had a full picture of what was going on and then he acted accordingly. He was always very cautious and made sure he was doing the right thing. And I admired that in him."
King would later take that approach to the City Council when he was elected in 2000, though he often faced an uphill battle as the lone dissenting vote on a council that rallied firmly behind then-mayor David Dodds.
"Dodds owned the council," said Tom Miller, who served as King's campaign manager when he ran for mayor. "Norm was the fifth vote and he hung in for two terms on that council with almost every vote (being) four against him."
"An anti-growth faction in West Linn had gotten a number of people elected," Richey said. "Norm came home from meetings frustrated. I pretty much talked him into running for mayor."
When King took office as mayor in 2005, the city was in a fragile place. The entire City Council, save for King, had been voted out of office and many of the city's top management positions were also vacated.
"The whole city was falling apart," Richey said.
A new city manager, Chris Jordan, was brought on shortly after King took office. The police chief also resigned and was replaced by Terry Timeus, who remains in place today.
King's job became even more difficult, of course, when an audit revealed that former finance director Elma Sandoval Magkamit had embezzled $1.4 million from West Linn between 2000 and 2005.
"Norm brought leadership at a time when leadership was desperately needed, because someone needed to start putting the pieces together," Miller said. "The reconstruction of a city, of the management of the city, had to go on in the two terms Norm had, and of course that included the discovery of embezzlement and all that."
Through it all, King stayed true to himself with a quiet but firm style of leadership.
"He was an incredibly kind and gentle man, but honest and direct to a fault," Marylee King said. "It was just a true dedication to doing things right and honestly, and getting things done. Not making any excuses or wheeling and dealing."
"He led with intelligence and dignity," Miller said. "He was just a gentleman, and a soft-spoken leader the city needed to heal wounds and make a new start."
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King's work was not limited to city government. He was also the co-founder of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, the founder of the Heritage Oak Preservation at Mary S. Young Park and an active member at the Lake Oswego United Methodist Church.
"He really appreciated people, too — all the volunteers — and wasn't afraid to get down and pull ivy with them regardless of what the task was," Marylee King said. "He was really about serving, not about building himself up."
"Norm cared a lot about urban forestry, and supported the preservation of the White Oak Savanna," Cummings said. "I think he would be glad to know the dream of making the Oak Savanna a park has come true this year."
King also stayed engaged with the political scene as it evolved over time, and was happy to share advice with current representatives like Mayor Russ Axelrod.
"Norm really cared for the community of West Linn, and he was always looking for ways to improve the quality of our life and how to govern ourselves better," Axelrod said. "Norm was also very passionate about our heritage, and the opportunities to celebrate our rich Oregon history.
"I will miss Norm, and especially his gentle smile and the common understanding and values that we shared."
By Patrick Malee
Assistant Editor, West Linn Tidings
Pamplin Media Group
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