Val Ogden, a tireless community advocate and former legislator who worked to promote women in leadership roles, secure funding for the Washington State University Vancouver campus in Clark County and improve the lives of those less fortunate, died Wednesday afternoon. She was 90 years old.
Her family said the cause of death was cancer.
Ogden served as the executive director of the Clark County YWCA, was Speaker Pro Tempore in the Washington Legislature and was named Clark County’s First Citizen in 2006. More recently, she was on the county’s freeholder board, a volunteer group tasked with writing a charter to govern Clark County.
Her resume, which is too long to reprint here, appropriately earned her the moniker of Energizer Bunny.
“This will leave a big hole in our community,” said Marsha Manning, a friend of the Ogdens’ and an active member of the Clark County Democratic Party. “Val was a community citizen. Her name is all over town. A lot of people are going to be very sad.”
Ogden served 12 years in the state’s House of Representatives. She became known as both a tenacious and likeable lawmaker. She mentored other women and was determined to funnel money into projects that benefited Clark County, from Vancouver’s waterfront trail to the dredging of the Columbia River.
She was the “absolute best of her generation and was a pathfinder in an era in which women were discriminated against and had to fight to achieve the equal rights and opportunities accorded to most men,” Richard Melching, of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, wrote in an email.
Throughout Ogden’s career she was a determined champion for women, children and the poor.
“She has managed the difficult balance of career and family with intelligence, common sense, compassion and a sense of humor,” Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson wrote in 2006 in a letter nominating Ogden for Clark County’s First Citizen award.
Betty Sue Morris served in the state House for four years with Ogden. In 1991, when Ogden was first sworn in, Morris said she was already a legislator, “but there were things to learn from Val Ogden. There were things to learn about how you get to what matters … with your style, your personal character, your own commitment.”
In 1993 when a surge of Republicans defeated Democratic incumbents, it left Al Bauer and Ogden as the two liberal voices representing Clark County. Bauer was serving in the Senate, with Ogden in the House. People were drawn to Ogden, Bauer said. When they went to her, they could be assured she would do her best to help them.
“She was an ombudsman of first-class for all people,” Bauer said.
Even recently, when Ogden was in hospice care, her friend of more than three decades and former colleague, Joyce Kilpatrick, called.
“I said, ‘Val, I want to know how you’re doing,'” Kilpatrick said.
Ogden responded to her friend with, “‘That’s not the issue. How are you doing?'”
And nobody mentioned Val Ogden without also bringing up her husband of 67 years, Dan.
“It was as though they thought as a single unit … They had been married so long and they shared such common core values about the nature of human existence and the role of government. They were like one,” Morris said of the couple.
Dan Ogden said the two “were a team.”
When he ran for Congress in Colorado, she gave speeches of support. When she ran for the Legislature, he was there, ringing doorbells and putting up signs to support her. The two, he said, “backed each other up” throughout their lives.
“She’s been a leader in every town she’s been in; in Washington, D.C., in Fort Collins and here. She’s been a leader repeatedly,” Dan Ogden said.
She did so while raising three children with her husband. The family went sightseeing on weekends, traveled to historic battlefields and hiked on the Appalachian Trail. She always worked to ensure other women had the same opportunities she did.
“We both felt that way, when the opportunity came to help women, we did,” Dan Ogden said. “She was an extraordinary woman.”
On Ogden’s 84th birthday celebration at the Washington State School for the Blind, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire told the crowd, “You’re here to thank (Ogden) on behalf of this community.”
Ogden pushed to improve the standards for students learning Braille and teachers instructing Braille.
But the former governor continued, “I come on behalf of 6 and 1/2 million Washingtonians, because what she’s done has left a lot of good here in this community. But what she has really done is left an amazing amount of good across this state.”
In 2006, after Ogden was named Clark County’s First Citizen, she wrapped up her speech with one of her favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.”
Val Ogden did things worth the writing.
She is survived by her husband; their three children, Dan, Janeth and Patti; six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.