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Originally published November 19, 2013 at 8:24 PM | Page modified November 19, 2013 at 11:31 PM

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Nan Campbell, Bellevue’s first female mayor, dies after fire

Bellevue’s first female mayor, Nan Campbell, died two weeks after she was injured in a fire in her apartment building.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Nan Campbell’s passionate involvement in Bellevue politics didn’t end after her stint as the city’s first female mayor.

It wasn’t even diminished when, on Election Day, she cracked her pelvis while fleeing a fire in her apartment building.

From her hospital bed, Mrs. Campbell insisted on knowing who was winning the election — and was delighted to learn that “my candidate” for City Council, Lynne Robinson, was winning by a landslide.

Mrs. Campbell, who was recovering from her injury at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, died unexpectedly early Tuesday from an undetermined cause, her daughter Patty Campbell said.

The cause of the Nov. 5 fire is under investigation.

While police have not yet released a cause, a law-enforcement source said they are investigating whether the fire was caused by someone cooking a cannabis-related product.

Mrs. Campbell was a neighborhood activist before her election to two terms on the Bellevue City Council, and she remained a civic and political leader until her death at age 87.

Described by former colleagues as “stately” and “gracious,” Mrs. Campbell played a major role in pushing the City Council to do more to provide human services, create affordable housing and protect neighborhoods adjacent to a fast-growing downtown.

She was a founder of the Crossroads Citizens Committee, which in the mid-1970s spearheaded the creation of Crossroads Park and Community Center through a voter-approved bond issue.

Although she described herself as a “stay-at-home mom,” Mrs. Campbell also served while a City Council member on a number of regional policy committees and was on the governing boards of Youth Eastside Services, United Way and other social-service organizations.

“Civility is the first word that comes to mind for her public presence: treating people with respect, kindness, astuteness. It’s a wonderful legacy the city has both followed and sometimes deviated from,” said Susan Wineke, a former city spokeswoman who knew Mrs. Campbell for 27 years.

“She was a gentlewoman, a lady. She was tall and graceful and very elegant in a friendly way,” said former City Councilmember Iris Tocher.

Neighborhood advocate

Mrs. Campbell ran, in 1981, for the council seat Tocher was vacating. “She maintained the woman’s seat. In those days it was really tough for women to get elected,” Tocher said.

Initially known primarily as a neighborhood advocate, Mrs. Campbell came to support the city’s plan for a high-rise downtown while maintaining the suburban character of the adjacent Vuecrest and Surrey Downs neighborhoods.

“In those days Bellevue was beginning to look like Aurora Avenue North, and I had the worry that it was going to look like a ‘slurb’ all the way to North Bend if we didn’t do anything,” Tocher said.

Mrs. Campbell alienated some of her original supporters by supporting continued downtown development. She also pushed creation of Downtown Park, declaring her park philosophy to be “the more, the better.”

She was instrumental in creating the city’s Human Services and Environmental commissions, said former Councilmember Margot Blacker.

“It’s a real passing of an era. Nan Campbell was always there,” said Terry Lukens, who was elected to the City Council just in time to vote for Mrs. Campbell for mayor.

“She knew what she wanted to accomplish, she set out to do it, and she built alliances. And then she stayed involved when she left. She didn’t just say goodbye,” Lukens said.

Continued involvement

Mrs. Campbell stayed so involved, giving advice to members of the City Council, boards and commissions, that her daughters joked it was “her puppet government.”

Despite her reputation for working 35 to 50 hours a week on city business during her eight years on the City Council, she never neglected her husband or the two daughters she raised in the Lake Sammamish home the family owned for 59 years.

“It always cracked us up because there was an article that talked about her coming from City Hall and whipping up a pizza. It was true,” said Patty Campbell.

Mrs. Campbell’s husband, former Boeing engineer Bruce Campbell, died in 2011.

Investigation continues

Police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate declined to say how Mrs. Campbell’s death might impact the investigation of the fire in which she was injured.

Witnesses reported a loud boom before the fire erupted at The Hampton Greens, in the 4500 block of 148th Avenue Northeast, around 6:30 a.m. Fire officials estimated the damage at $1.5 million to the building and $150,000 to the contents.

A source close to the investigation said investigators found all the supplies to manufacture a cannabis-related oil — possibly the extremely volatile hash oil — inside one of the burned apartments.

“It’s still an open investigation. They [detectives] are looking to and interviewing many people,” Iafrate said Tuesday. “We’re looking at different aspects of the fire.”

Mrs. Campbell is survived by a sister, B.J. Cunningham, of Pittsburgh; daughters Patty Campbell, of Seattle, and Ann Spangler, of Des Moines; and grandchildren Zoey and Emma Whistler, both of Seattle.

No services have been scheduled. The family suggests memorial gifts be made to Youth Eastside Services.

Seattle Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this story. Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com



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