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Originally published Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 8:19 PM

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West Seattle activist Margaret Ceis was a force in grass-roots Democratic politics

Margaret Ann Ceis, a West Seattle activist who was a tenacious advocate and a political force, died Wednesday. She was the mother of former Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Legendary West Seattle activist Margaret Ann Ceis, whose work helped change Seattle's political landscape, died Wednesday at age 86.

Mrs. Ceis was a natural leader and a tenacious advocate for a number of civil-rights and neighborhood causes. She was an early supporter of school desegregation and fair housing and the first woman to chair the city's Human Rights Commission. She helped revive the now-powerful 34th District Democrats organization in the 1960s and, later in life, fundraised for civic and arts projects in West Seattle.

"She was an advocate par excellence, because when she made up her mind about something, it was going to be done, and she was indefatigable about her interests, which were always in the public interests," said Phyllis Lamphere, another West Seattle activist who worked on parks issues and West Seattle Democratic Party issues with Mrs. Ceis.

Mrs. Ceis' son, Tim Ceis, was deputy mayor under former Mayor Greg Nickels. Tim Ceis carried the nickname "The Shark" and was known as a tough negotiator and political force — characteristics he concedes he probably got from his mother.

"Our dinner-table conversations were pretty lively," said Ceis, whose late father, Philip Ceis, also was politically active. "She would argue with me a lot, but that's the kind of relationship we had. Margaret was very opinionated about political issues ... . She was a very tough lady but in a good way. She wasn't uncompromising at all, but she knew what she thought was right and she wanted to get it done."

Mrs. Ceis was born Aug. 6, 1925, in Fairbanks, Alaska, to John H. and Anna M. Yorke. She moved to Kent as a teenager and attended the University of Washington. She married Philip L. Ceis in 1955. He died in 1996.

Mrs. Ceis' first community involvement was in housing-equity issues in the 1950s and '60s, when the city was considering legislation to desegregate Seattle's neighborhoods. From there, she got involved in the busing effort to desegregate Seattle schools.

Lamphere said she became acquainted with Mrs. Ceis and her husband in the 1960s, when both were part of a group of West Seattle residents who attempted to oust sitting Democratic state legislators in favor of a more progressive slate. They were successful, through an "end run" around the powerful Democrats of the day, Lamphere said. Their work spawned a new crop of progressive West Seattle political activists and laid the foundation for the neighborhood's influence today.

"It was Margaret who introduced me to grass-roots Democratic politics. Her endorsement was without question the most coveted in West Seattle," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "Without the coaxing and mentorship of Margaret Ceis I might never have sought or been elected to public office, and I will be forever grateful to her."

Nickels said he, too, considered Mrs. Ceis a mentor.

"As chair of the 34th, she would just provide a little bit of sage advice from time to time, if she saw you weren't doing things that needed to be done," said Nickels. "She'd just kind of give you a gentle hint. And you learned that those hints were pretty valuable."

Over the years, she served as chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, the Seattle Housing Authority, the Harborview Medical Center board of trustees, the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners, and the 34th District Democrats. She was a 50-year member of the League of Women Voters and led a Delridge Neighborhood Association fundraising effort that paid for, among other things, the West Seattle Food Bank and the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. By the time Mrs. Ceis became a founding board member for ArtsWest, she had such a good reputation in West Seattle that she served as its "seal of approval," said Artistic Director Christopher Zinovitch.

"You believed her," he said. "You believed in what she believed in."

Mrs. Ceis is survived by her two sons, Tim Ceis and Jeremy P. Ceis, both of Seattle, and a brother, John H. Yorke Jr., of Auburn.

A memorial for Mrs. Ceis will be at 2 p.m. June 2 at The Hall at Fauntleroy, 9131 California Ave. SW.

Remembrances may be made to the West Seattle Food Bank, 3419 S.W. Morgan Street, Seattle, 98126; or ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave, SW, Seattle, 98116.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.


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