OLYMPIA — Washington legislators took a break from debating bills and arguing over budgets Wednesday morning to pay tribute to past senators and representatives who died since 2020 during a special joint memorial session. It was the first in-person memorial session held at the state Capitol since the start of the pandemic.
“For more than a century, the Senate and House have met, as we meet today, to pay special and fitting tribute to the lives and service of these valued public servants,” Lt. Gov. Denny Heck said at the start of the session.
Heck said it was important for the Legislature to pause, despite an abundance of work, and pay homage to “the disappearing generations of men and women who aided in strengthening and multiplying the powers and opportunities and possibilities of the people who constitute our great state.”
Among those honored during the service were former 49th District Reps. Jim Moeller and Robert Schaefer. Moeller died March 8. Schaefer died Feb. 27, 2022.
“He could have been governor, he was that well-respected,” Sally Schaefer said of her late husband.
Schaefer served four terms in the House, including a term as Speaker of the House, from 1959 to 1967. At the time, he was the second youngest speaker in the state’s history.
Although born in Seattle, the Schaefers, who were married for 68 years, called Clark County home for decades.
“He was a wonderful man and husband,” Sally Schaefer said.
In an effort to preserve her husband’s political legacy, Sally Schaefer said she is now working with the Clark County Historical Museum on a possible exhibit.
Once the gallery was darkened, a roll call of the 61 legislators being honored began. As each name was called, the bell was rung once and a selected legislator proceeded to the dais to light a single white candle in their memory. A vase with 61 white roses was also placed on the rostrum.
State Rep. Sharon Wylie lit candles for both Moeller and Schaefer.
Although Wylie wasn’t in office at the same time as Schaefer, she said they did work on other projects together while Schaefer was a practicing attorney.
“Bob worked tirelessly to move the I-5 Bridge replacement forward. The move to designate it as a ‘project of statewide significance’ came from his legal and political mind and experience,” Wylie said. “During this long effort, we frequently spoke on the phone as he kept in touch, expressed curiosity and support and shared his personal time and experience.”
In an interview last week, Wylie also recalled her time serving with Moeller.
“He was fearless,” Wylie said.
After serving in the Legislature from 2003 to 2017, Wylie said, Moeller remained actively involved in politics and legislation. She said he most recently worked to get an assault weapons ban passed, noting the House passed a bill banning the weapons only hours after his death.
“He would defend other people to the death. He was a fierce advocate,” Wylie said. “And he had an incredible sense of humor.”
In a final tribute to the former lawmakers, Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins said, “The people of our state are grateful for their service. … They once sat in these chambers, answered roll calls on critical bills, attended committee meetings, and through it always thought to make our state a better place to live.”