SEATTLE – October 10, 2011 Albert Rosellini ’33 “The Gov”
Reprinted from UWLAW Fall 2010
Last year at the age of 100, the nation’s oldest living governor, Albert Dean Rosselini ‘33, ate lunch with views of the city and state behind him and vividly recalled memories from law school.
“It was the Depression so we had to make every penny count, but we still managed to have fun. We had regular dances, and I played in a band,” recalled the man known to many affectionately as “The Gov.”
In the summer of 1933, Rosellini was one of the 60 applicants who passed the bar. Rosselini, known for getting things done, immediately began practicing law.
One of The Gov’s first high-profile cases introduced him to Ethel McNeil, who served as a key witness, which eventually led to their marriage in June of 1937.
While the hard times of the 1930’s may have inspired Rosellini to be civically involved, it may also have been the need to bring pride to the family name as the only son. Or quite possibly it was his involvement in the Young Men’s Democratic Club of King County. Whatever the reason, Rosellini began his political career as Washington State Senator of the 33rd (Seattle) District in 1938.
By 1941, Rosellini was the unquestioned leader of the senate and a strongly recognized Democratic spokesman. Rosellini introduced legislation to create the UW medical and dental schools in 1943. Rosellini also supported the Youth Protection Act in 1951, improving Washington’s juvenile justice centers.
By 1956, Rosellini was running for governor. At this time there had never been a governor west of the Mississippi who was Catholic, Italian or a first-generation immigrant. The combination of a weak opponent, a strong campaign, the public perception that the state’s institutions were in disarray and Rosellini’s own effective statewide effort spelled victory for Rosellini. In the final election, Rosellini won by almost 100,000 votes.
“People told me that because I am of Italian descent, and because I am of humble origin, that I should save my time. Somehow I couldn’t quite believe that. I could not believe that the American people, living in a land dedicated to the principles of equality for all, would deny me that right…I was warned that prejudice and bigotry would defeat me—that the special interests who have control of the present administration would spare nothing—no trick, no deceit, no fraud to defeat me.”
With his father and mother, Giovanni and Annunziata, beaming proudly, Rosellini formally took office on January 17, 1957. The fact that he was the first Italian-American to be elected governor in the western states was mentioned prominently in The New York Times.
As governor for two terms from 1957 through 1965, Rosellini’s stamp can be seen across the state of Washington. For example, he was responsible for restructuring the state’s prison and mental health facilities. His interest in transportation led to the Evergreen Point Bridge (the longest floating bridge in the world) as well as the Hood Canal, Astoria-Megler and Goldendale bridges and an expanded highway system.
His reforms in state budgeting brought transparency to the state’s financial decisions, enforcing accountability. He was also responsible for bringing the state into its position as a player in the Pacific Rim economies through his work on commerce and trade.
Rosellini’s last campaign for governor was in 1972, a campaign that he lost, yet, he remained politically active.
In 1979, Gov. Dixy Lee Ray appointed Rosellini to a six-year term on the State Highway Commission, later to become known as the Washington State Transportation Commission. In 1992, Rosellini was appointed to a six-year term as director of the Washington Trade and Convention Center by Gov. Booth Gardner.
In a private capacity, Rosellini continued to serve his state with his usual vitality. In 1969 he agreed to serve as chair of the state’s U.S. Olympic Training Committee. During his tenure, the committee raised more than $2 million to maintain Olympic training centers and provide financial support for Olympic athletes from Washington.
At 100, Rosellini may have slowed down a bit, but he still lights up when he recalls his days at the law school and his long life of work.
“We all got our work done, but we really knew how to have fun in the process,” said Rosellini with a smile and twinkle in his eye.