Former Councilwoman Maureen McCarry dies
July 10, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Maureen McCarry, a former City Council president and longtime community leader, died early July 4 after a battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, 18 months after resigning from the council.
McCarry, 62, served on the council amid a period of expansion in Issaquah, as council members addressed long-term issues related to transportation, economic development and the environment — a hallmark for McCarry.
In separate stints on the council in the 1990s and 2000s, she made the environment a priority.
The commitment earned McCarry the Ruth Kees Environmental Award for a Sustainable Community early last year. The top environmental honor in the city recognized McCarry for tireless efforts to forge agreements outlining construction in the Issaquah Highlands and Talus, preserve forested Park Pointe on Tiger Mountain and strengthen tree-protection rules.
The prize included $500 — money from a long-term endowment established as part of Kees’ estate. McCarry donated the money to the Issaquah Environmental Council to plant trees on Park Pointe near Issaquah High School.
The act encapsulated McCarry’s dedication to Issaquah and the environment.
“It was always about the issues for Maureen and it was always about making the city better,” said City Council President Tola Marts, a close friend and a Squak Mountain neighbor of McCarry. “People say that, and it’s a platitude, but it really was true with Maureen.”
Marts said McCarry left another important, intangible legacy.
“The current civility that you see on the council, I think has a lot to do with Maureen,” he said. “Though she was a passionate person, she never made it personal.”
McCarry maintained the same cordial sense of professionalism even amid the rough and tumble of council campaigns.
“Honestly, I never heard her say a mean word about anybody,” Marts said. “It would have been very easy to get into an us-versus-them sort of mentality, but she never did.”
Mayor Ava Frisinger lauded McCarry for lasting contributions to municipal policy and the Issaquah landscape.
“She was very, very good at translating policy direction and council perspectives to the development community,” Frisinger said.
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The mayor also remembered McCarry for light-hearted moments and family stories.
“There was a very good-natured and gentle humor that Maureen had,” Frisinger said.
‘She made lasting contributions’
On the council and the Community Advisory Committee for Swedish/Issaquah, McCarry, a former Harborview Medical Center executive, played a key role in landing a hospital for the city.
“Because of her work at Harborview, I think that she was able to bring some perspective to that whole hospital planning process that no one else could have done, certainly no one else in this community,” Frisinger said.
McCarry later received effusive praise for the project at the July 2011 opening reception for Swedish/Issaquah.
“She made lasting contributions to our community,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said. “It’s very sad that she’s gone.”
Goodman succeeded McCarry on the council, initially as a council appointee. Goodman later ran uncontested to complete the remaining years of McCarry’s term.
Before stepping down from the council, McCarry led the effort to acquire and preserve 40 acres atop Squak Mountain for wildlife habitat and trail access to nearby Squak Mountain State Park.
The tract is called McCarry Woods — another honor from the city. The land is adjacent to McCarry’s Forest Rim neighborhood.
The city acquired the forestland in August 2007 through the Cougar-Squak Mountains Wildlife Corridor project. The mayor appointed a citizen committee in July 2011 to select a name for the property, and council members OK’d the McCarry Woods choice the next month.
In November, Forest Rim residents organized a block party for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the trailhead. Envisioned as a small neighborhood gathering, more than 100 people descended on the site instead.
“I was so moved to see so many people walking up the street,” neighbor Carol Powers said. “I thought that was a testimony to Maureen and all of the different people that she has touched.”
Friends remember McCarry as a dedicated mother to Michaela, 14, and wife to Tom Knollmann.
Once ALS stole McCarry’s ability to speak, Knollmann acted as a clear voice for the former councilwoman. In a poignant speech to attendees at the McCarry Woods dedication, Knollmann thanked community members for rallying to assist the family.
“When you have been shown the amount of care that this community has shown, you can’t help but feel strengthened and lucky,” he said in a July 9 interview.
‘Joy at having served the citizens’
McCarry received the ALS diagnosis in October 2010. The neurodegenerative disease made speaking difficult, but McCarry remained engaged in city affairs from the resignation until recent months.
“Email became her medium,” Marts said.
The disease did not erode McCarry’s interest in neighborhood activities, either.
“I was so amazed that she would take that time to write these long emails to me regarding the trailhead,” Powers said. “She was always so thankful. I didn’t send a single one that she didn’t write back and say thanks.”
The same thoughtfulness and humor aided McCarry during nearly 20 years of public life in Issaquah.
“She used that humor to remind folks that whatever they do, at the end of the day, tomorrow we will still be a community,” Knollmann said. “That’s why she was so careful about not letting people put themselves in a position where they would feel ostracized when the sun came up the next day.”
Not long after McCarry settled in Issaquah in 1993, she joined the Planning Policy Commission, a frequent springboard to higher office.
Then, after Frisinger transitioned from councilwoman to mayor in 1999, council members selected McCarry to fill the open spot on the council. The council selected McCarry from a pool of 10 candidates to fill the seat, and she served until 2000.
McCarry opted not to run for election then, but in 2005 she eked out a 21-vote victory to earn a complete council term.
Observers once considered McCarry as a mayoral prospect, perhaps in 2009 or 2013, but in 2009, she opted to run for another council term instead.
In December 2010, on the night McCarry left the council, colleagues offered emotional tributes. In a last act as a councilwoman, before a tearful sendoff, she seconded a motion to adopt a Park Pointe agreement.
The action culminated a long career in public service for McCarry.
“The impairments resulting from this illness make it impossible to continue the work that I love,” she said in a farewell statement read by then-Council President John Traeger at the meeting. “I leave the council, not with sadness, but with joy at having served the citizens of Issaquah and pride that I have for our community.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.