Family, colleagues and innumerable friends are mourning the loss of a true statesman after former state Sen. Sid Snyder died at his Long Beach home Sunday. He was 86.
Snyder served in the Senate for 12 years starting in 1990, when his friend, Sen. Arlie DeJarnett, died and many Democrats asked Snyder to run for his seat, despite a complete lack of elected experience. He did have more than 40 years of experience at the Capitol, working his way up — literally — from the ground floor as an elevator operator in 1949.
He became Secretary of the Senate in 1969, a partisan administrative post he was given by the Democrats and remarkably kept through one Republican majority. Snyder was a classic example of the citizen legislator, keeping up his roots in Long Beach, moving there in 1946 after serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He opened Sid’s Market in 1953 on borrowed money and his son, Sid Jr., now owns the store. Snyder was also a founding member of the Bank of the Pacific in 1971, a charter member of the Lions Club and an active board member for several local businesses and organizations.
Mark Doumit represented the 19th District after Snyder’s retirement in 2002, and has since left to become executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association.
“He was a fine man. He’s kind of one-of-a-kind because he’s a great example of how people should treat each other, both in the political process and out of the political process,” Doumit said. “He was the kind of person who could meet with the president of United States or the CEO of a company and treat them with the same respect he would give a logger or a fisherman or someone who needed help. I admired him a great deal, he was certainly one of the people I looked up to in life. He set a great example.”
Retired state House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler worked with Snyder for more than a decade, and called him a leader today’s lawmakers could learn from.
“He dealt with (leadership) in a way that would make anybody proud to have him as a leader. He never stepped on the minority, he treated everybody with respect. I think we all could learn from him. I know I learned a lot from him,” Kessler said. “He just was someone I tried to emulate and tried to learn from, because I thought he was just the pinnacle of what a leader should be and what someone who represents the people should be. … He led with a strong hand but not one with brass knuckles on it.”
State Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, now holds the 19th District Senate seat and has known Snyder since he was a little boy.
“It’s tough to say anything that already hasn’t been said or written about Sid,” Hatfield said. “Just turn on the TV, during this crazy, homestretch of the campaign season, and it becomes obvious how much we need people like Sid. Keep Bette and the rest of the family in your thoughts and prayers. Sine die, my good friend.”
Kessler recalled one incident in 1997 when Snyder resigned in the midst of a debate where senators were trying to suspend a rule to get a budget passed. He only relented when presented with a letter signed by nearly every senator asking him to reconsider.
“They did everything but say, ‘We were wrong,’ ” Snyder said in an Associated Press story at the time.
“He wasn’t just talk, he believed in what he did and he treated everyone with respect, the lowest to the highest,” Kessler said. “He was (Democrats’) top leader every time they were in the majority for the time I was there, and he always was a statesman. I think we’ve been losing that in our legislative bodies both at the national and state level. If we had more Sid Snyders, we’d get more done and it would function like it should function.”
Former Daily World editor and publisher John Hughes and former Daily World writer Jeff Burlingame were working on a biography and oral history of Snyder. The draft was finished less than a week before Snyder’s death.
“It really personifies how important these oral history programs are,” Hughes said. “He was without a doubt one of the most influential political figures in the history of Washington.”
In 2003, Long Beach re-named 10th Avenue SW Sid Snyder Drive, and in 2006, the road leading into the Capitol was named Sid Snyder Avenue.
Former Gov. John Spellman said, “Sid transcended party politics. A great man, indeed.”
Hughes said nothing exemplified that more than Snyder keeping his post as Deputy Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives when Republicans gained the majority of that body in the ’60s.
“To me that really illustrates that Sid really did transcend politics. He was known as a man of absolute integrity on both sides of the aisle, and then you throw in that wonderful raconteur personality of his. His stories were just absolutely wonderful,” Hughes said.
The stories recorded over many sessions with Snyder always had a lesson to take away: Some focused on the need for civility and forging alliances, others explored the human conditions, and some were just fun.
Hughes noted it spoke to the kind of man Snyder was that he went from making a dollar or so a week at a grocery store to a self-made millionaire, yet still chose a life of service.
“Sid Snyder, through sheer hard work and intuition, became a wealthy man but instead of moving to Palm Springs, what did he do? He became a state legislator because he wanted to make a difference,” Hughes said. “For all the years he spent in Olympia, his home-away-from-home, he never forgot Southwest Washington and the Long Beach Peninsula. That was home to him — they were his kind of people. Blue-collar, hardworking people who knew what it was like to work at a grocery store or in a lumber mill. He was a true child of the Depression, and he never forgot those lessons.”
Former Associated Press political reporter Dave Ammons, now spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed, was also working on the oral history project, and knew Snyder well.
“I arrived in Olympia as a young cub reporter for the AP back in ‘71 and Sid was already an institution. He was very generous with his time with me as he was with lots of young people and people who found Olympia mysterious. He schooled me in the ways of the Legislature, and really was an early mentor for me,” Ammons said.
He recalled Snyder’s passion for teaching civics, civility and the legislative process, whether it was to a cub reporter, a new governor or a citizen.
“He was very interested that people learn the civics of self-government, of legislation. He was a very good teacher,” Ammons said.
Ammons said during his time reporting on the Capitol, he remembered Snyder taking an active role in legislation, ranging from work on the Astoria Bridge, worker re-training after the spotted owl ruling put many in the timber industry out of work, improvements to the community college system and crafting fair and reasonable budgets. In 2002 he was awarded the Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, from a field of more than 30 nominees nationwide.
“I think more than any one piece of legislation, what I’ll remember is his ability to bring people together and to foster civility,” Ammons said. “In this day and age, campaigns get so toxic, and when they get to Olympia the winners have it in for each other. A lot of figurative back-stabbing goes on. Sid wasn’t in for any of that, he was all about trying to get along. Today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s ally. I hope people will remember the lessons that Sid taught.”
Dee Anne Shaw, former Daily World reporter and current administrative assistant in the Aberdeen School District Superintendent’s Office, once worked as a legislative assistant for Snyder.
“One of the things that I knew as Sid’s assistant was that no matter how much power he had or how many big issues of the day he was involved in, if we got a call from someone in the district, no matter who it was, the people of the district always came first. No matter what I was doing, if someone from Aberdeen or Long Beach or Ilwaco needed him, that became my priority,” she remembered. “If it was involving his district, he wanted to be involved. … He didn’t delegate.”
Shaw was in a unique position as a former reporter used to watching how those in power used it, working directly under him and observing how his constituents responded to him. Often, after the honeymoon period following election, politicians can lose their luster in the eyes of those who elected them, she explained. Over time, there’s nearly always someone coming up to challenge an elected official.
“Sid was that rarest of people for the trust people had in him,” Shaw said. “I don’t know that there was anybody trying to undermine him because there was just this huge comfort level. In Sid we trusted.”
And aside from that, she noted, “he was a wonderful boss because he was a wonderful man.”
Doumit remembered a moment after a budget writing session with Snyder.
“We were walking out of the building together, and … he tapped on some of the big marble pillars and he said, ‘You know I just can’t believe a few of us from small towns are here doing this job,’ ” Doumit said. “He took the honor and responsibility of doing the job very personally. He was the best mentor and friend and example that I could have ever had.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a statement Monday on Snyder’s passing.
“Washington state government has lost one of its giants. Sid was unique and irreplaceable. Over the course of five decades, literally rising from his start as an elevator operator in the state Capitol, Sid set the standard for public service. He was humble, dedicated, a doer, world-class story teller and, above all, a family man. Sid was legendary for getting things done and for his never-failing courtesy and civility. He represented his district and the people of our state with principle, dignity and modesty. They just don’t come any finer than Sid Snyder.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray called Snyder an “amazing leader with a heart of gold.”
“He was kind and gracious, and because he had the respect of everyone that knew him, he was able to bring people together to solve problems for the people of our state,” Murray said. “He will be missed by the countless people who had the privilege of working with him and of calling him a friend. My thoughts and prayers are with Bette and his family right now.”
Added Hoquiam state Sen. Jim Hargrove: “He was a statesman who cared more about the citizens of the state and the institution of the Senate than anyone else I’ve known.”
Snyder is survived by his wife of 61 years, Bette, three children and four grandchildren.
Services will be held Saturday, Oct. 20 at 11 a.m. at the Carl P. Aase Gymnasium at Ilwaco High School’s Black Lake Campus, 404 School Road. Parking will be available at the Port of Ilwaco with a shuttle bus to the school. Memorial contributions may be made to Ocean Beach Educational foundation, P.O. Box 1377, Long Beach, WA 98631, or The Templin Foundation, P.O. Box 775, Long Beach, WA 98631.