ILWACO — Hundreds of former colleagues and average citizens gathered here Saturday to honor Sid Snyder, remembering him as a boy who grew up poor in Kelso and went on to become the “Governor of Southwest Washington” without ever losing his humble, common touch.
Snyder, a Long Beach grocer, retired state Senate Majority Leader and longtime fixture in Olympia, died last Sunday at the age of 86.
Local, state and federal lawmakers from both parties flocked to his funeral in the Ilwaco High School gym, saying he was an inspiration both for his knowledge and his kind spirit.
“Sid came straight out of the soil of Washington state … and he was a true servant leader,” Gov. Chris Gregoire told the crowd of 500 people. “And he left this great state of Washington a far better place then he found it through hard work and humble dedication.”
Gregoire also presented a state flag that had flown over the state Capitol Snyder so loved and an official proclamation honoring “the life and legacy of a humble hero.”
Snyder first started working in Olympia in 1949 as the elevator operator in the Capitol and gradually worked his way up in non-elected posts to secretary of the senate, making political friends and acquiring an encyclopedic memory of senate rules along the way.
In 1990 he was elected to the Senate from the 19th District — which generally includes all of Pacific and Wahkiakum counties and Cowlitz County west of the Cowlitz River. He also served as majority leader for several years, retiring in 2002.
Snyder had power and political clout and was a staunch Democrat, officials and friends remembered. But he also knew how to preserve friendships and working relationships with Republicans along the way.
“He was a senator’s senator, meaning he knew how to get things done and served it up with a smile and laughter,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said during her remarks.
Former 19th District state Sen. Mark Doumit recalled that Snyder was just as comfortable having coffee with a Capitol janitor as he was meeting President Bill Clinton and other dignitaries.
“He knew how to treat people from all walks of life,” Doumit recalled. “He was a giant of a man, but also one of the most humble.”
When not in Olympia, Snyder ran Sid’s Market in Long Beach from 1953 to 2008, using a loan to cover the entire $13,200 purchase price. His son Sid Snyder Jr. took over the store in 2008, delighting Snyder, who never wanted it to become a chain and lose its local connection.
One of his father’s quirks was to hand out half-dollar coins as change, because he loved the coins with the profile of President John F. Kennedy, Sid Jr. recalled during the funeral. The government stopped minting new half-dollar coins about 10 years ago, but about $500 worth still is handed out at Sid’s Market each week, he said, flashing one to the crowd.
In addition to his business, Snyder was a community booster and a generous benefactor to many charities. He often donated anonymously because he didn’t want credit, he just wanted to help, his son recalled.
“He did what was right without thinking about it,” he said.
Nabiel Shawa, who grew up in Long Beach and is the town’s former city administrator, remembers seeing Snyder run Christmas raffles and help start the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display. More importantly, Shawa said, Snyder taught him by example about how to make citizens feel comfortable and respected when they visit government offices seeing help. It’s a lesson he still remembers today as city manager in Walla Walla, he said.
Snyder also helped start the Bank of the Pacific in 1971 and served as chairman of the board for 25 years. Shawa said having a local bank was invaluable for many peninsula businesses.
“When our small businesses were hit by financial turbulence … Sid’s bank helped figure out a solution and helped you get through the rough patch,” he said.
Even more than the Legislature, though, Snyder loved his family, several speakers said. He always made time for them and loved talking about his kids and grandchildren. Several speakers also lauded Snyder’s widow, Bette, and their three children for supporting Snyder during all of his years in Olympia.
“It was an amazing sacrifice the Snyder family made for this community and the state,” Shawa said. “We truly owe you a debt of gratitude.”
Barbara LaBoe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org