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Thursday, March 6, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Monty Lish led safety council, put family first

Seattle Times staff reporter

He listened — really listened. He encouraged — urging colleagues to tackle tasks that stretched their abilities. And he taught — lessons that family and co-workers say will long reverberate in their lives.

The things Monty Cecil Lish did seem so simple, but they had a profound effect on those around him, both at home and at the Evergreen Safety Council, where he served as executive director for the past 14 years.

Mr. Lish died Friday (Feb. 28) at Swedish Medical Center/First Hill of prostate cancer. He was 64.

"He was definitely a leader and a teacher and someone who inspired," said Colleen Sweeney, the safety council's assistant director of operations. "There was always a compassionate spirit about him, a very sincere and genuine one."

Shelley Lish, his daughter-in-law, said Mr. Lish always had time to talk with her, particularly about management and leadership.

"He would always stir a new thought. He made me want to be a true leader with all of my heart."

Family was at the top of Mr. Lish's list, said his wife, Caroline. He told his children that other kids might have more things, but "they're not always going to have this family, the unity, the love, the support," she said. "His mantra was 'Life is not having; it's not doing; it's being.' "

Mrs. Lish said her husband was always learning. "In our family, a life was always explained as a journey. It never ends."

Along the way, as Mr. Lish saw it, you helped others, made a difference, and had fun.

"He had one rule for staff: This must be a happy place to work," recalled Judy Harshbarger, safety council director of operations.

The Evergreen Safety Council, a nonprofit safety-service organization, provides safety and health-training services, safety information and materials to businesses and individuals. Among other things, it provides first-aid and CPR-instructor training.

Under Mr. Lish, the safety council grew in scope and responsibilities; employees felt they were part of a team always reaching for the next challenge.

Mr. Lish's experience in military, government and the private sector gave him a perspective that helped bring those with differing viewpoints together, his wife said.

Born July 10, 1938, in Ellensburg to Cecil and Anna Lish, Mr. Lish began life living in a boxcar, his wife said. His parents were poor and moved frequently. When he was 12, he moved in with his grandparents so he could stay in one place.

"Education was very, very important to him, because he worked so hard to obtain it," Mrs. Lish said.

He graduated from Lake Chelan High School in 1956, and received degrees in California from Ventura Junior College and San Fernando Valley State College. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant, and worked as a budget analyst for Ventura County in California and for Gov. Dan Evans in Washington.

In 1970, he returned to Ventura County, where he was appointed county executive in 1972. While he worked, he earned a master's degree in public administration at the University of Southern California.

After a move to Seattle in 1979, he served as manager of safety and training for Metro until he was appointed executive director of the Evergreen Safety Council in 1989.

In addition to his wife, Caroline Lish of Issaquah, Mr. Lish is survived by a son, Monty Eaton Lish of Kirkland; two daughters, Alexandria Lish-Simpson of Boise, Idaho, and Amanda Lish Owens of Issaquah; granddaughter Summer Chelan Simpson of Boise; two sisters, Teresa Johnson of Billings, Mont., and Patricia Ellis of Yuma, Ariz.; and two brothers, David and Ron Lish, both of Spokane.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. today at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 220 Mt. Park Blvd. S.W., Issaquah. The family suggests remembrances to the Evergreen Safety Council Scholarship Memorial Fund, 401 Pontius Ave., Seattle, WA 98109.

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