Paul Telford, who served two terms on the Port of Olympia Commission but who came to local prominence for his criticism of Thurston County government, died on Sunday from chemotherapy-related complications to treat cancer, his stepson said. Telford was 76.
He also ran for a seat on the Thurston County Commission in 1994, but lost in the general election, said his stepson, Christopher Wagar, 51.
Wagar said Telford died in the home he built on Totten Inlet in Olympia, surrounded by family, including Mary Telford, his wife of 45 years, and two daughters and a grandson, Lucas Wagar.
Christopher Wagar remembered his father Thursday by saying that after a career as a mechanical engineer he became a self-motivated entrepreneur, working on small land development projects in the area. He also loved the environment, including hunting and fishing, and once worked to protect salmon runs on the Columbia River, Wagar said.
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“He loved the outdoors,” he said.
But Telford also was a man frustrated and incensed by waste in government and bureaucratic red tape, Wagar said.
Former Port of Olympia Commissioner Bob Van Schoorl, who served 14 years on the commission, said Telford always made the other commissioners think and consider the positions he was taking and why he was taking them. His background as an engineer also provided insights into the technical side of port operations, he said.
Current port commissioner Bill McGregor, who was appointed by Van Schoorl and Telford in 2008, said Telford was a dedicated official who took his job seriously. He was supportive of military shipments through the port and also believed strongly in transparency and term limits.
“I enjoyed working with him and I enjoyed his perspective,” McGregor said.
After Telford was elected to the port in 2001, and again in 2005, he decided not to run for a third term in 2009.
“It’s time to move on,” he said that year, according to Olympian archives.
Telford was born April 22, 1939, in Salt Lake City. He served four years in the Air Force and then attended the University of Utah, where he earned a degree in engineering. His background in engineering took him to Washington, where he worked at Hanford, the former nuclear production site near the Tri-Cities.
Telford moved to the Olympia area to work on the Washington Public Power Supply System, a failed nuclear power plant development in Satsop. After that, he quit the nuclear power industry and became self-employed as a developer, Wagar said.
That introduced him to Thurston County government. He would frequently appear to share his opinion with the commission about permitting and other regulatory requirements. He later sued the board of county commissioners and related parties in the 1990s and won, preventing the future use of public money for political campaigns.
A celebration of life is set for July, Wagar said, adding that’s the best time to coordinate a family gathering.