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Originally published Monday, January 3, 2011 at 5:06 PM

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William 'Biff' Brotherton, car dealer and WSU 'ambassador,' dies at 67

Longtime luxury-car dealer William "Biff" Brotherton died Sunday at 67 at his Seattle home.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Longtime luxury-car dealer William "Biff" Brotherton, who died Sunday at 67 at his Seattle home after a 2 ½-year battle with cancer, once told a Seattle Times reporter what he liked best about running a family business:

"Four of my kids work with me, and on any given day, I see more of them than I did in the entire time they went to high school," Mr. Brotherton said. "It's a riot. I mean it's the most fun thing in the world."

The comment captured a man who found joy in every role in his life: businessman, husband, father, grandfather, civic booster and avid fan of his beloved Washington State Cougars — his alma mater and that of all five of his children.

Amid all those priorities, "Family was number one always," said daughter Kari Brotherton of Seattle. "He always made time for all of us kids, unconditionally," and in more recent years, for his nine grandchildren.

Kari Brotherton said that when her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, his first thoughts were, "How do I get more time with my family?" and he bought a vacation home on Camano Island where he could teach his grandchildren to fish. "He taught the kids card games — Go Fish and Old Maid — and they played right to the end, even if he was struggling," she said.

In addition to his children and his wife, Leslie, a top priority for Mr. Brotherton was WSU, where he earned a bachelor's degree in general studies in the mid-1960s.

"Anything we were ever in need of, he did it, he was involved in every possible way," said Sam Jankovich, of Hayden Lake, Idaho, a former WSU athletic director and longtime friend of Mr. Brotherton's.

Mr. Brotherton, a fixture at WSU football games, didn't just donate money, but gave his time, energy and enthusiasm to help lead fundraising campaigns, such as one that expanded Martin Stadium in the 1980s.

"He was an ambassador for the university in so many ways," Jankovich said. "Everyone who has ever encountered Biff Brotherton is better off for it."

The accolades Mr. Brotherton received from WSU included the school's prestigious "Weldon B. (Hoot) Gibson Distinguished Volunteer Award" in 2000. In recognition of his generosity to WSU, he was also named a WSU Laureate for 2008-09.

Born in 1943, Mr. Brotherton grew up in Walla Walla amid family traditions such as bird-hunting, Walla Walla wines and WSU athletics. After graduating from college, he served three years in the Marines, reaching the rank of captain.

Leaving the service in 1968, he became a third-generation car dealer, going to work for the family automotive business and, three years later, opening Sunshine Chevrolet Cadillac in the Walla Walla area.

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In 1984, he moved to Mercer Island, purchasing Frederick Cadillac in Seattle. He put his own family name on the dealership when he moved it to Renton in 2000, and had added Land Rover and Lexus dealerships to the family holdings.

He sold Brotherton Cadillac to his son, Brad Brotherton of Mercer Island, in 2005 and retired shortly afterward.

A frequent companion of Mr. Brotherton at Cougar games over the years has been Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, who became friends with Mr. Brotherton shortly after Blethen arrived in Walla Walla in 1975 to become publisher of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, owned by The Seattle Times Co.

The two twice traveled together to Pac-10 basketball tournaments, and stayed close during Mr. Brotherton's illness.

"Biff was one of those guys who are bigger than life — big passion, big sense of humor, loved to be around people, loved the attention," Blethen said. But Blethen said that behind the outgoing persona was another side to Mr. Brotherton, that of a sensitive listener and valuable confidant.

Mr. Brotherton was active in a variety of professional and civic organizations, including The Rainier Club and Columbia Tower Club.

In addition to his wife, Leslie, son Brad and daughter Kari, his survivors include a sister, Terry Terhune of Sisters, Ore.; daughter Beth Swanson of Walla Walla; and sons Rob of Bellevue and David of Los Angeles, and nine grandchildren.

A celebration of Mr. Brotherton's life is planned for 4-7 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Hyatt at Olive 8, 1635 Eighth Ave., Seattle. A private family memorial also is planned.

Remembrances may be made to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, J5-200, P.O. Box 19024, Seattle, WA 98109 for multiple myeloma research, or to the Washington State University Athletic Foundation, P.O. Box 641602, Pullman WA 99164-1602.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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