Longtime attorney and community leader Dennis Colwell died early Saturday morning from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. He was 71.
Friends and family remember a man of humor and strength who loved his family, the outdoors and his community.
“He got pretty sick, but he handled it remarkably well,” longtime friend Tami Garrow said Monday. “Dennis had a very, very sharp sense of humor. He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did, he crammed a lot into a few words. And usually whatever he said was pretty funny.”
Colwell is survived by wife Dottie and daughters Terri, Heather and Rebecca.
An Ellensburg native, Colwell made his home on the Harbor since 1972, when he joined the Grays Harbor County Prosecutor’s Office. He worked as chief civil deputy prosecutor from 1974 to 1979.
“He was a good lawyer and a good friend,” said Curt Janhunen, who worked with Colwell at that time. “We all hiked together and canoed together and spent a lot of time outside the office together. He’s going to be missed.”
They were law school students at the same time at the University of Washington, although Colwell left school for a year to work as a choker setter before graduating in 1971.
“He was no silver spoon guy,” friend and colleague Art Blauvelt recalled with a laugh.
Blauvelt worked with Colwell at Ingram, Zelasko &Goodwin, the firm Colwell joined in 1979.
As chief civil deputy, Blauvelt said, “he was involved in the land use decisions that were made involving the siting of the Satsop Nuclear Power Plant. I know Dennis used to have a big picture of that facility in his office.”
Colwell often joined Blauvelt on rafting trips.
“Dennis had a very active life, he climbed a lot of mountains, did a lot of hiking. He was just a very active guy,” Blauvelt added. “We’re sad to see him go.”
At home, he was just as active, working with the Aberdeen Rotary, as a Democratic precinct committee officer for many years, and serving on the executive boards for The United Way of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, Evergreen Counseling and the Grays Harbor Economic Development Council.
Colwell married Mariliee “Micki” McMonagle in 1972. Micki Colwell was also active in the community, founding the 7th Street Kids theater program in 1992. They were together until her death in 2001.
“It was just part of the fabric of who Dennis was, he really believed in giving back to the community and he did it all his life,” Garrow said. “He coached the girls’ softball teams, he served on a number of boards, and he gave us his time freely and for decades. Our community really needs people like that and they’re harder and harder to come by. It’s a real commitment when you’re raising a family and building a practice, but he found time to be there for the kinds of organizations that really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Colwell was particularly proud of Grays Harbor College, where he served as a trustee for 13 years. He helped recruit current president Ed Brewster.
“I think that the college really during the time that he was on the board went through major physical changes, a lot of program developments, addition of new programs, and always with his calm, rational approach to things,” Brewster said. “I think we moved through things really well under his leadership. On top of all of that, Dennis became a very close friend of mine, during the time that he was on the board and once he left the board. We have maintained a close friendship with Dennis and his family, and this is a really personal loss for me for him to go.”
“I just valued Dennis both as a board member and as a friend outside of that,” Brewster added. “He and his wife really made us a part of this community by including us in everything they included us in. I will miss him a lot.”
Blauvelt took over Colwell’s seat in 2010, with the parting advice, “Pay attention, listen carefully, and help the president,” Blauvelt recalled.
Colwell married Dottie Brackley in 2002, a result of his daughters’ matchmaking.
“Dottie worked at the (YMCA of Grays Harbor) and still works at the Y and was a swimming coach and teacher,” Garrow said. “The girls knew Dottie, and I think it was Heather who thought they should meet one another. And she kind of set them up.”
Together, they made a life of adventure, full of hiking, biking, climbing and traveling with a group of close friends.
“He was a great guy — very smart, very funny, very kind,” Garrow continued. “He loved Dottie and he loved his family and he loved his friends. He was a very loyal friend.”
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Grays Harbor College Foundation, the Grays Harbor Community Hospital Foundation, YMCA of Grays Harbor, the 7th Street Theater, Aberdeen Rotary or the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.