There are many little-known benefits of living in Olympia, and one of the best is getting to know people on a personal level who have made historic and broad impacts on the state of Washington.
Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro is one of those people.
I recently had the pleasure of emceeing a fundraising luncheon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Morningside, a locally grown organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities. Part of my job was to introduce Munro because the organization was honoring him with its highest recognition.
It should have been easy. After 20 years in office, almost everybody in Olympia knows Munro. We know about his humanitarian and environmental work. How he founded the bald eagle preserve on the Skagit River, his campaign to ban the capture of killer whales in Puget Sound and his efforts on preservation of historic landmarks and land conservation.
We know that as a Rotarian he has made 14 trips to Ethiopia and East Africa over the last 12 years, helping to eradicate polio by administering oral vaccine drops one child at a time.
But what I didn’t know, and I suspect others don’t know, is the back story that led Munro to spend more than 47 years as a tireless advocate for disabled Washington residents.
The Army designated Munro 4-F, so he decided to serve the country by volunteering with disabled kids, starting with Seattle’s annual Holiday Cruise for the Handicapped. On that cruise he met a young boy named Terry, who lived at Fircrest School (a state institution for the developmentally disabled in Seattle).
As a 20-something young man, Munro volunteered every day at Fircrest School to visit Terry. He missed just nine days out of two years, going there before and after work.
Munro spent the next 47 years, right up until this year, as an advocate and guardian for Terry, who now lives semi-independently in Marysville.
One day, then-Gov. Dan Evans visited the school and Ralph jumped at the chance to give him a behind-the-scenes tour. That led to Munro’s appointment as the state’s first volunteer coordinator and later as the governor’s special assistant on education and social service issues.
And that, in turn, led to his five terms in a statewide office where he accomplished a long list too numerous to mention.
But here’s a short version: He paved the way for students with disabilities to attend public classrooms, extended the Equal Rights Amendment to include “sensory, mental or physical handicaps,” removed the terms “idiot” and “imbecile” from the state Constitution and published the first Braille voters phamplet.
Munro authored Referendum 37, which funded construction of more than 100 facilities for the disabled around the state, convinced the city of Olympia to install curb cuts in its sidewalks and then passed legislation requiring accommodations such as curb cuts, wider doors and wheelchair ramps as a statewide mandate.
There’s more, but Evans summed up Munro’s passion for giving people with disabilities a better quality of life. Evans once said that Munro was “the man who taught me how to care.”
I can’t think of a more meaningful tribute to someone than that quote or any better way to have introduced Munro at the Morningside luncheon.