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Originally published June 24, 2013 at 9:07 PM | Page modified June 24, 2013 at 9:39 PM

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Civic leader Brewster Denny, descendant of Seattle’s founders, dies

Brewster C. Denny, a great-grandson of Seattle’s founders and the creator of the University of Washington’s graduate school of public affairs, died Saturday. He was 88.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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As a great-grandson of Seattle’s founders, Brewster C. Denny was always proud but never pretentious, working hard to better his city by helping rewrite its charter and establishing and directing the University of Washington’s graduate school of public affairs.

His life took him all over the world, first as a Navy man during World War II, then as an intelligence analyst during the Korean War, then as a diplomat and adviser for a variety of government agencies.

But there was no greater thrill for him than ringing UW’s Denny Bell at homecoming — a tradition he took part in for 51 consecutive years.

Mr. Denny died of natural causes at his Seattle home on Saturday (June 22). He was 88.

Born in Seattle in 1924, Mr. Denny graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1942 and the UW in 1945 before being sent to Pearl Harbor to prepare for a planned invasion of Japan.

The end of World War II saved his crew from that dangerous mission.

Mr. Denny then obtained a master’s at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and taught history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It was in Boston that Mr. Denny met the woman who would become his wife of 63 years, Patricia Virginia Sollitt, of Elkhart, Ind.

“My roommate and her fiancé thought that Brewster was just the right person for another of our roommates, so they invited him over,” Patricia Denny said Monday. “But the next day, he called me.”

The couple married months later, in June 1950.

They moved to Washington, D.C., where Mr. Denny was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Department of Defense and a staff member on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery.

Mr. Denny served in several other public roles, including as U.S. representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations, national-security adviser during the transition between Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and representative of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

He moved with his wife to Seattle in 1961 and soon founded the graduate school of public affairs. Mr. Denny served as the school’s dean until 1980 and continued to teach American foreign policy there until 2004.

Former Gov. Dan Evans, for whom the school is now named, described Mr. Denny as an intelligent man who “bled purple,” forever inspired by his great grandparents, Arthur and Mary Denny, who founded Seattle in 1851 and helped establish the UW a decade later.

“He was very proud of that heritage,” said Evans, who was a high-school classmate of Mr. Denny’s. “It caused him to be an activist and an active participant in making the city better.”

In addition to his work at the UW, Mr. Denny played major roles in the Century Foundation, a think tank; the Children’s Alliance, an advocacy organization; and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice described him as a “giant” in a foreword for a 2010 book about Mr. Denny’s speeches, books, articles and personal papers.

But despite his heritage and duties, Mr. Denny’s only child said that family always came first.

“He had the ear of many important people, but I always came first, and I always knew that,” said Maria Denny, 50. “He just loved me absolutely unconditionally.”

Outside of work and spending time with his family, Mr. Denny enjoyed boating, reading about current affairs and playing the piano.

And, of course, he loved ringing the Denny Bell, which was installed in the UW’s first building on Denny Knoll.

“He lived a very full life,” said Jim Compton, a former City Council member, journalist and 25-year friend.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Denny is survived by son-in-law Jim Kodjababian and grandchildren Ella and Jacob.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 9 at Seattle’s Epiphany Church.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Brewster C. Denny Fellowship at the Evans School of Public Affairs, or to the Children’s Alliance.

News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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