Longtime political reporter and columnist Myron J. (Mike) Layton, 88, died at a Seattle nursing home Sunday after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
On Tuesday, statehouse politicos from the 1970s and early 1980s recalled their encounters with Layton, who was part of the Capitol press corps for much of his 18 years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, following a stint in the early 1960s at The Olympian.
“His death represents a passing of an era,” said Denny Heck, a five-term (1976-84) House Democrat from Vancouver, Wash., and later chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner. “There was a time when he and Shelby Scates of the P-I and Seattle Times political reporter Dick Larsen kind of ruled the roost.”
The irascible, ruddy-faced Layton could struck the fear in the hearts of politicians, who sometimes withered under his tough questioning.
“But the next morning, in the paper, his stories were always fair,” Heck recalled.
Born in rural Nebraska in 1922, he grew up there and in rural Wyoming, where he graduated from Riverton High School in 1941, then joined the Army. He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in Europe in 1944-45.
He later attended the University of Wyoming on the GI Bill and graduated from the University of Denver in 1950 before returning to active duty in the Korean War with the 11th Airborne Division and the 10th Special Forces.Before coming to The Olympian, he was a newspaper reporter in Colorado and Idaho.
Layton enjoyed the outdoors, climbing mountains, backpacking, sailing and traveling, including extended trips to Central America.
Jolene Unsoeld of Olympia, a former Democratic state legislator and congresswoman from the 3rd district, said Layton encouraged her when she took on the political establishment as a citizen lobbyist and campaign leader for Initiative 276, the open-government measure passed by the voters in 1972. The initiative created the state Public Disclosure Commission and set the stage for disclosure of campaign financing, open public meetings of government bodies and open public records.
“He cared about these things,” Unsoeld recalled.
When tragedy struck the Unsoeld family – she lost her daughter and husband in separate mountaineering accidents in the 1970s – she turned first to Layton to share the news.
“I knew I could trust him; he was just a fine newsman,” she said.
A celebration of Layton’s life with family, friends and colleagues has been held, and no additional services are planned. Memorial contributions may be made to The Evergreen State College Make Layton Scholarship for Progressive Media or to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
John Dodge: firstname.lastname@example.org