Text and photos by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights
The first time I met former Governor Al Rossellini was 20 years ago when I photographed him on assignment for the Boeing Company. It was at Seattle’s City Hall in the early 1990’s where he was meeting with mayor Norm Rice and various other city officials. I remember how warmly he greeted me when I entered the room and how his great smile and enthusiasm could instantly charm, while putting you at ease.
Albert Rossellini was a Democrat Governor for the State of Washington from 1957 to 1965; during an era some historians consider the beginning of postmodern history. His terms as governor were distinguished by major accomplishments and his résumé would be the envy of any serving governor today. Rossellini championed foremost regional development of public infrastructure, including expanding of the state highway system, and oversaw construction of the worlds’ longest floating bridge, which spanned Lake Washington. He was a governor who proved his belief in the value of public education, making every effort to enhance the states’ universities and helped to develop a regional community college system. Al Rossellini also had a rare, over-the-horizon-vision; which embraced economic development, by creating a state department of commerce which successfully help land the Seattle Worlds Fair in 1962. Many of Rossellini’s accomplished goals, launched the states’ economic trajectory towards becoming a national and international player, which has been well sustained into the 21st century.
Last January I sat down with former governor Rossellini at a dinner party held for him to celebrate his 101st birthday. I felt honored having a conversation with a civic leader whose vision and action helped shape the political/economic dynamics of the Pacific Northwest . Another distinction I experienced was being in the presence of a centenarian with a great sense of humor, quick wit and enthusiasm for discussing a variety of subjects. Within just a few months of the dinner party, the unstoppable Al Rossellini would achieve yet another outstanding accomplishment, a record for being the longest surviving governor in United States History!
My brother Jim setup the dinner party at his home to celebrate the governors’ birthday. He’s been a friend of former governor Rossellini for several years now and wanted us all to have an opportunity to celebrate the occasion. My parents were also invited and in attendance for the governors dinner party. Towards the end of the event, my dad revealed a photo he had saved for 50 years, it was of governor Rossellini with my dad, along with four other members of the armed services. Written on the back of the photo by a department of defense photographer was: Veterans Day 1961, state capitol, Olympia, Washington. As both men reminisced about the event, I grabbed my camera and proclaiming, “here’s a Paul Dorpat moment,” (the name of a photo historian, who shoots the series “Now & Then” of historical montages for the Seattle Times Newspaper.) Without direction, the senior citizens placed themselves as they had been positioned 50 years ago for the Veterans’ Day photograph. Some weeks afterwards, I scanned the black & white photograph and compared it to the digital photo I had recently taken at the party. Marveling at the analogue print as a piece of ephemera in my hands; I mused on its value as a recorded fragment from half a century back in-time. Now the two photographic events, which were separated by decades, are united, representing a wonderful continuity of the two men, in their golden years of life.
In the contemporary history of Washington State, Al Rossellini’s accomplishments have served the region exceptionally well and will continue to do so for many years to come. With Governor Rossellini’s death this week, he will be dearly missed by his loving family, grateful friends and admiring colleagues. For those in the State of Washington who are not aware of this great civic leader, Albert Dean Rossellini, just take a big look around, his supportive influence is just about everywhere, seamlessly woven into the fabric of our region.
Al was always a fountain of energy, continuing to the very end his devotion of helping a good cause; perhaps sometime in the future he’ll take a break from his retirement in the sky and send some much-needed advice and vision back to our civic leaders…