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Former Washington first lady Lois Spellman dies days after losing her husband

Staff file: A view of Tivoli Fountain on Capitol Campus. On Thursday, Secretary of State Kim Wyman tweeted that former Washington First Lady Lois Spellman has died.
Staff file: A view of Tivoli Fountain on Capitol Campus. On Thursday, Secretary of State Kim Wyman tweeted that former Washington First Lady Lois Spellman has died. sbloom@theolympian.com

Former Washington state first lady Lois Spellman died on Wednesday, just days after the loss of her husband, former Gov. John Spellman.

John Spellman died Jan. 16, at age 91. He was governor from 1981-1985.

“Trudi and I are saddened to hear of the death of Lois Spellman,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement issued Thursday. “Our state is better for the life and work of this gracious, loving and kind woman.”

The Spellmans were married for 63 years, and had six children and six grandchildren.

She was born in 1927 in Havre, Montana. The couple met in a Spanish class at Seattle University, according to John C. Hughes’ book “John Spellman: Politics Never Broke His Heart.” She was a Democrat, he was a Republican, and they liked to talk politics.

As first lady, she was “candid and accessible — but protective, too,” according to Hughes.

“Her family came first,” he wrote. “During the 1976 campaign she told a friend that if John won, ‘I’m not really convinced yet I’m going to go down there (to Olympia). I’m a mom. I’ve got a bigger job, and I don’t know that I would like that at all.’”

Hughes wrote that once the family moved into the Governor’s Mansion, Mrs. Spellman still did the shopping and cooking, and packed school lunches. She also worried about her husband’s stress. She hosted aerobics classes for the legislative wives in the Mansion’s ballroom.

“Lois saw early on that the mansion needed more help — a chef for the luncheons and banquets in addition to the people who vacuumed the rugs and polished the floors in the public rooms,” Hughes wrote. “Her college major was labor relations. She insisted that the Legislature make the Mansion workers regular state employees with health-care and pension benefits.”

She also championed support for food banks and feeding the hungry, Hughes wrote.

“She was John’s trusted adviser throughout his career, and a strong protector of everyone around her — from members of her family to state employees,” Inslee said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Spellman family. Losing Lois so shortly after the death of John is heartbreaking. Seven million Washingtonians are holding this family in our hearts.”

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