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Tuesday, March 17, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Washington's `Silent Senator' Served The State Well

WASHINGTON State lost an unsung hero last week when a heart attack claimed Sterling Munro at age 60.

Munro exemplified what it means to be a true public servant. For 25 years, Munro was the state's man-behind-the-scene, working for Senator Henry M. Jackson, primarily as his Administrative Assistant.

He taught me the real meaning of being a Senator's "A.A." In his book, as in mine as his successor, it stood for "Absolutely Anonymous." Munro performed the role so well he was dubbed "Washington's Silent Senator."

Munro worked tirelessly on behalf of Washington state. He understood that public service is not a 9-to-5 Monday-to-Friday job. He showed how much you can accomplish with hard work, persistence and loyalty, especially if you don't care who gets the credit.

Senators Jackson and Magnuson, and their staffs, were very competitive, but in a positive way. The goal was to get as much done as possible for the state of Washington in the shortest possible time, knowing full well the chief beneficiaries of the competition were the people of Washington State.

Munro left his mark on every corner of Washington state, from the Ozette archaeological dig and museum on the Olympic coast to the Lewiston-Clarkston Bridge in Asotin County.

He had a special passion for the out-of-doors and so, while the job of an A.A. should have been totally consuming, he nonetheless immersed himself in every major piece of natural resources legislation promoted by Senator Jackson. He found the time to do most of the staff work which led to the creation of the North Cascades National Park and the Redwoods National Park in 1968. He was also involved in the National Environmental Protection Act, the Youth Conservation Corps Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the national wilderness system, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, extension of the Olympic National Park and on and on.

Senator Jackson began seeking support for a national energy strategy in 1971, a story the press regularly relegated to the obituary page. Later, as Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, Munro worked with Senators Jackson, Magnuson and Hatfield to pass the Northwest Regional Power Planning and Policy Act. Because of that Act, the Northwest is the first region of the United States to have a true energy policy.

One little item Munro and I conspired on was to insert language in the Act to set aside a portion of power revenues for the enhancement and mitigation of salmon and steelhead resources. Over the last 10 years, that little amendment has resulted in more than $500 million being spent to improve Columbia River salmon and steelhead stocks and for habitat improvement, as well as for wildlife mitigation and enhancement.

The demands of public life make it difficult for public servants to maintain a decent family life. But somehow Munro raised seven well-balanced, caring, loving children. Each summer when he drove the family across country in the family station wagon, they hiked and camped throughout the North Cascades. Those are the kinds of activities that keep families together and strong.

Many public servants serve only a brief time and then leave to pursue more lucrative careers. Not Munro. He understood the value of staying on the job and helping others. When he did move to the private sector, he continued his public service through his work on the Board of Directors of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, the Board of Trustees of Central Washington University and other philanthropic efforts.

Munro was not driven by ego. By remaining quiet and understanding the role of staff, he had more latitude to accomplish things of importance than if he needed credit for his work.

He understood the value of humor under pressure, of not taking yourself too seriously. He lectured me and other members of the staff that, if you can't laugh at yourself, Washington, D.C., will quickly destroy you.

Sterling Munro leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of accomplishment. His strength was getting things done for the state quietly but effectively. He was part of an era and a team that was unlike any other seen by this state. Everyone who calls Washington state home is better off because of his work.

Sterling Munro was a mentor and a big brother to me and he trained many people in the "Henry Jackson School of Good Government." I remember him well and pray that you do too.

Denny Miller is president of Denny Miller Associates, a Washington, D.C., consulting and lobbying firm. He was formerly administrative assistant to Sen. Henry M. Jackson until his death in 1983.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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