Bill Ruckelshaus, who was about as admired as any politician could be in these days, has died in his Medina home at age 87. I once helped launch Crosscut in an office near Bill, and we would swap political stories from time to time. I instructed him in the mysteries of Seattle politics and he repaid me by instructing me in life’s wisdom. Very good balance of trade!
Here are a few typical anecdotes about the man.
He would always say, concerning his 15 minutes of fame when he resigned rather than fire Archibald Cox, that this was far from heroism. He was simply honoring his pledge to Congress that if asked to interfere with the investigation into Nixon’s behavior he, Bill, would simply resign. Which he simply did. (Hold your applause, please! His Indiana upbringing in the core value of modesty simply could not abide being praised.)
Another story concerns the time when some of Ruckelshaus’s friends, such as Paul Schell, tried to get the hero of Watergate to run for president as a last-minute, Bloomberg-style entrant. He firmly declined, saying that his belief in democracy (which was fundamental to the man) meant that you couldn’t waltz into high office without going through the primaries and meeting the people, being tested by the people. It was always, what do the people say? His guiding wisdom was that you need to level with the people, inform the people, and then trust them.
And lastly, once when Bill was proudly showing some of us around his lovely garden, which he tended lovingly like his tending of American civic values, he quietly let slip that he had in mind a tombstone epitaph. It would say, Bill Ruckelshaus, Plantsman. RIP, beloved Bill.