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Bartholomew, former city and county council member, dies at 84

Shirley Bartholomew -
Shirley Bartholomew
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“There’s no disgrace in dying,” a friend recalled Shirley Bartholomew saying. “It’s just a pain in the ass.”

Bartholomew was born in Marysville on Jan. 26, 1924, and on Nov. 2, she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 84.

Bartholomew served on the councils of both the city of Marysville and of Snohomish County, but she had an even longer career in the news, to the degree that city of Marysville Community Information Officer Doug Buell, who recalled the above quote, believes that, “To many, she will be remembered as the voice of Snohomish County.”

Bartholomew served as news director for Everett’s KRKO Radio for nearly 40 years, from 1943-1980. At the same time, she worked as a secretary and director for Everett Broadcasting from 1955-1976, followed by a stint at First Pacific Broadcasting, also in Everett, from 1976-1980.

“She remembered Loretta Lynn showing up in the KRKO offices, back when she was just a frail, thin little girl who wanted to sing country,” Buell said.

Bartholomew won several awards for her news work, including AP Managing Editor awards in 1959 and 1978 for her work as an editor and reporter on wire service reports, and Outstanding Contribution awards from the Washington State Press Women in 1968 and 1980. She was also named to the Edward R. Murrow Washington Hall of Fame in 1980.

The close of Bartholomew’s broadcasting career coincided with the start of her political service. Considered a moderate Republican, she began her first term as a member of the Snohomish County Council in 1981, served as chair of the Council from 1987-1988, and retained her seat through the end of 1989, when she was defeated by Democrat Ross Kane.

Marysville resident John Garner noted that Bartholomew remained active in politics, in both the county and city levels.

“With her guidance, I eventually ran for the County Council,” said Garner, who defeated Kane. “My hat goes off to her for that.”

Garner characterized Bartholomew as a “stalwart Republican” whom he always trusted.

“With her, what you saw was what she really was,” Garner said. “There was no fluff. She was very straightforward and honest as the day is long. I felt comfortable taking her into my confidence.”

Bartholomew then served as a member of the Marysville City Council from 1994-2001, including a short term from 1995-1997, followed by a full term from 1997-2001.

Current Marysville City Council member Donna Wright served alongside Bartholomew on the City Council, but she was already familiar with Bartholomew from the County Council, as well as her broadcasting work.

“She was a legend by then,” Wright said. “I had listened to her commentaries on the radio.”

Wright praised Bartholomew for retaining her news reporter’s instincts by asking questions.

“She was always asking, ‘Where will the money come from?’” Wright said. “She was so inquisitive, with such a sharp mind, that it was an honor to work with her. She had a wit, and we got along well.”

Wright also cited Bartholomew’s long personal history with the community, and her lengthy list of connections within the community, which Wright believes gave Bartholomew a broader perspective.

“She knew so many people,” Wright said. “With any issue that affected Marysville, she had a story that explained why we should do something. It was a pleasure to hear her share her ideas.”

Although Bartholomew declined to run for reelection in 2001, she helped Wright get elected back onto the City Council in 2002. Wright recalled the once-a-year lunches that she, Bartholomew and Donna Patterson would have together, near their birthdays, since all of their birthdays were around the same time. She expressed her hope that Bartholomew will continue to be remembered as “an asset to the community.”

Buell described Bartholomew as “a dear friend” and “a worldly woman” with grace, wit and a political acumen “second to none.” He maintained their friendship after she left office, “because people like Shirley only come along once in a lifetime,” and credited her with consistently scoring the inside scoop on Marysville and Snohomish County news stories, days before they made the headlines.

“The Shirley Bartholomew Book Repository and News Center,” Buell said. “That’s how I referred to her home on Fifth Street downtown. No visit ended without me walking out the door with a half-dozen non-fiction books and a stack of magazines, while CNN was playing the background, the phone was ringing off the hook and her cat was tugging at me. Sometimes she had opera playing in the background, which she loved and knew deeply. She always greeted me at the door with a ‘Hey, kiddo, what do you know?’”

City of Marysville Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew deemed Bartholomew a “passionate” representative of Snohomish County’s interests in the government, who “kept Marysville on the map,” in part by stepping up as one of the early champions of economic development for the city.

“She was a huge advocate for our viability,” Ballew said, “and on a personal note, she was just a grand lady, especially toward the armed forces. When the Navy came to town, she embraced them and made sure we all understood how important it was.”

According to Ballew, Bartholomew was also largely responsible for the city of Marysville’s Parks and Recreation Department taking up the mantle of continuing education.

“She truly represented all four corners of this community,” Ballew said.

“This is a great loss to the city and the county, no question about it,” Garner said. “She’ll be missed, but not forgotten.”

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