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Sunday, July 31, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mementos told life of John Cartano, 96

Seattle Times staff reporter

One of the few things Seattle lawyer and civic activist John Cartano wasn't good at was throwing things away.

Mr. Cartano, who died July 19, was a distinguished orator, decorated veteran, business leader and devoted husband. He was also something of a pack rat, according to his oldest daughter, Julie Rourke.

"He had a house full of everything he wrote, every picture he took and every important newspaper headline. Everything was filed," Rourke said.

Mr. Cartano died at the Sunrise Assisted Living facility in Bellevue. He was 96.

His life provided a museum's worth of mementos. He was a commencement speaker at his West Seattle High School graduation and a state champion high-school orator. He used his debating skills to graduate from Harvard Law School. During World War II, he commanded a PT boat and received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal of Honor for helping rescue 35 survivors from a burning troop-transport ship, John Penn, in the Solomon Islands area.

After the war he was a founder of the Seattle law firm Cartano, Botzer & Chapman. He served as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1961-1962 and was a member of the steering committee that brought the World's Fair to Seattle. He also served as manager for Dwight Eisenhower's 1956 presidential campaign in the state of Washington.

As a lawyer, he specialized in personal-injury cases. "He was a great trial lawyer. He was a great communicator, related to people in juries and exuded confidence," said Frank Birkholz, a Seattle attorney, who joined Mr. Cartano's firm right out of law school and later became a partner there.

Rourke remembers going downtown as a young woman to visit her father. "He would take us to the courthouse to meet judges and attorneys, then we'd go to lunch at the Rainier Club, and it seemed like everybody on the streets knew my dad and shook his hand," she said.

Despite his many accomplishments, Rourke said, her father put family first. Mr. Cartano never tired of taking his seven children on skiing and boating trips, she said. He also took them on meticulously planned adventures abroad, including a six-week 1968 tour of Asian countries, including Indonesia, Taiwan and Cambodia. "We didn't go to stay in fancy resorts," said his daughter, Margaret Cartano Hewes. "We went to obscure places and saw people eat beetles."

Hewes said her father was curious about everything. "In the 1960s he was interested in what young people were doing so he bought a Beatles record just to find out for himself."

Mr. Cartano was married for 58 years to Jane Bronson Cartano, who died May 1.

When her parents first met, Rourke said, her father was immediately smitten with his future wife, and he proposed to her every day for three months until she accepted.

Later, the couple shared a passion for tending to about 30 fruit trees at their Bellevue home. "They enjoyed making jam and canning all kinds of fruit together. They made a huge production of this," Rourke said.

During his wife's final years, Mr. Cartano was a devoted caregiver as she battled Parkinson's disease, Hewes said.

In addition to Rourke and Hewes, Mr. Cartano is survived by five other children: David of Los Angeles, Robert of Seattle, Anna Gascoigne of Lynnwood and Helene Marcelia and Joan Savard of Bellevue; 13 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Services have been held. Remembrances may be sent to the American Diabetes Association.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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