Former Councilwoman Maureen McCarry reflects on years of service

February 1, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Maureen McCarry once used a clear voice to advocate for Issaquah residents.

But amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, muted the voice and prompted the former city councilwoman to resign in late December.

Maureen McCarry celebrates early City Council returns at an election night party at the Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-in in 2005. By Greg Farrar

The decision did not come easily to McCarry, a former Harborview Medical Center executive and Squak Mountain resident. Less than a year into a four-year term, she had planned to continue as a voice for environmental preservation, economic development and human services issues.

Instead, McCarry received the ALS diagnosis in October, and the rapid progression of the neurodegenerative disease has left McCarry unable to drive and speak.

After a Dec. 20 meeting, council members offered a poignant and tear-slicked send-off to McCarry.

“I regretted, of course, having to leave so early in my term and so would have loved to have served through exciting upcoming projects,” she wrote last week in response to e-mailed questions. “Without my voice, it was hard to ‘voice’ my great appreciation to the citizens of Issaquah and the council for their support during this time — and for the kindness and appreciation, and humanity, that were demonstrated to me as I left the council.”

Though McCarry is no longer a public official — and in spite of her illness — she said she plans to remain involved in municipal issues.

“I have worked hard for the betterment of our community. I will remain an active citizen and adviser when called upon,” she wrote. “At this time, I feel fulfillment as I see this council move forward and extol the competence of those who have stepped forward to take my place to continue to grow and improve Issaquah.”

Some residents also reached out to McCarry for input as they consider applying for her former position. The council is expected to appoint a successor to the Position 5 seat in March.

McCarry urged the next council member to delve deep into issues brought to the council for decisions.

“I was tenacious in knowing the facts and understanding the assumptions behind policy alternatives,” she wrote. “We must guard against the blind acceptance of assumptions that are not grounded in facts.”

‘Ring like a bell’

Attention to detail and a knack for problem solving earned McCarry plaudits from colleagues on the council and in the community.

Kristen Allen-Bentson, a parent volunteer at Issaquah Valley Elementary and Issaquah Middle schools, like McCarry, praised the former councilwoman. Both women have daughters enrolled at Issaquah Middle School.

“Some people are really great at pointing out things that need to be changed, and other people are really great at figuring out how to solve problems,” Allen-Bentson said. “Maureen is in the latter category.”

Colleagues interspersed personal reflections amid the policy accomplishments as McCarry resigned from the council.

“Take care of your daughter,” Councilwoman Eileen Barber said. “She’s an absolute beautiful person and you’re a beautiful mother.”

McCarry received a standing ovation from council members, city staffers and audience members for her service during a combined six years as a councilwoman.

“I remember when I learned about Maureen’s diagnosis, I thought, ‘Well, here we are in the middle of budget sessions,’ and there Maureen was,” Councilman Mark Mullet said. “She’d just been diagnosed and she was there every meeting, for three hours. It’s a testament to what some of these public servants do. I think for every Rod Blagojevich, there’s 20 Maureen McCarrys.”

Councilman Fred Butler, a friend and longtime colleague, credited McCarry for spearheading the intricate decisions related to construction of the Talus urban village and undertaking other daunting tasks related to long-term plans.

“Thank you very, very much for all you have done for Issaquah and its citizens during a period of rapid growth,” he said.

Councilman Joshua Schaer said he found in McCarry another council member cut from the same ideological cloth.

“Maureen has been in agreement with me on many, many issues over the last three years,” he said. “We’ve seen eye to eye and worked side by side on many, many things.”

Councilman Tola Marts met McCarry as a fellow parent volunteer at Issaquah Valley Elementary School. The council members then campaigned together for office in 2009 and served alongside each other on the council for almost a year.

“I’m eager to see what she does next,” Marts said. “Although her voice has been muted, it’s clear that her passion for Issaquah continues to ring like a bell.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Since amyotrophic lateral sclerosis prompted former Councilwoman Maureen McCarry to resign in December, local attention has focused on the condition better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS attacks the nerve cells, or neurons, responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Symptoms of the neurodegenerative disease do not usually develop in patients until after age 50.

Patients experience a worsening loss of muscle strength and coordination. The muscles responsible for breathing and swallowing can be among the first to be impacted by the disease.

Dr. Lee Liou, a neurologist and neuromuscular specialist at Swedish Medical Center, said ALS could be difficult to diagnose early.

“Depending on what part of your nervous system is affected, it could cause different symptoms that can very much look like something else,” he said. “It’s not the first thing that people think of.”

Experts remain uncertain about what causes ALS. Liou said 90 percent of cases could be classified as sporadic, because the person has no family history of the disease. In the other 10 percent of cases, a family history of ALS is present.

Diagnosis also takes time, because the symptoms can resemble other neurological disorders. ALS patients often notice weakness in the early stages.

“It often takes a long period of time to come to a diagnosis,” Liou said. “Coming to the diagnosis can help you figure out what to expect and, for some people, that’s very important.”

Most ALS patients die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years from the onset of symptoms.

No treatment exists for reversing ALS, so physicians focus on physical therapy and other forms of supportive care to make patients as comfortable and independent as possible.

Liou said a strong family and community support network is important for ALS patients, such as McCarry.

Though the disease has left the former councilwoman unable to speak, she said she plans to remain engaged in municipal issues in the months ahead.

“So, I can’t drive to check things out, can’t call up to chat, but I do very well on e-mails,” she wrote in response to e-mailed questions.

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One Response to “Former Councilwoman Maureen McCarry reflects on years of service”

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