Oke’s Senate colleagues pay tribute

It doesn’t happen very often, but for a little while in the state Senate, all rancor, all divisiveness, any and all ill will vanished as members rose, one by one, to tell one of their own how much they loved him and to say goodbye.

Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, gaunt from the cancer that has returned to ravage his body after a three-year battle against it, listened quietly as strong men wept and women struggled to keep their composure.

His wife, Judy, without whom he was never seen, was seated in the rostrum. Their three grown children and grandchildren were in the gallery.

It took a couple of tries before a distraught Sen. Ken Jacobson, chair of the Natural Resources Committee on which Oke served, could get out any words. “You are a true patriot and a true Christian,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone as good as you and kind as you.”

“I love you,” said Sen. Tracy Eide, D-Federal Way. “You are a big beautiful man. We all love you.”

“You have the most faith of anyone I have known,” said Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima. “If everyone in the world practiced their faith the way Bob has, there would be no war, no discrimination, no famine and no homeless.”

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chair of the Transportation Committee on which Oke served, was in tears. “You are a great man,” she said. “I love this man. His faith built a bridge. He has done an extraordinary job.”

Because Oke was the No. 1 champion for a second Tacoma Narrows bridge, Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, said he called him Mr. Bridge Bob. “I came here as an immigrant,” he said. “There are few people I consider inside, but I do Mr. Bridge Bob.”

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, broke down, recovered and said the fruits of the spirit were love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. “You have been all these things.”

“You are the greatest of the great,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

“I lost my father as a boy and you have been a dad to me,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.

“Martin Luther King said every man must decide whether to walk in the light of creative altruism or the dark of destructive selfishness,” said Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. “I admire your humility, your steadfastness. I have never heard you raise your voice in anger.”

“You have been a role model for the rest of us,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island.

“If all people were like Bob Oke,” said Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, “what a wonderful world it would be.”

Oke rose to his feet and said he enjoyed his 16 years in the Navy and his 16 years in the Senate. The most important bill he got passed after years of trying for it, he said, was putting an end to tobacco samples that are given to youth. “And I didn’t do it alone. The press called attention to it and helped get it passed.”

He just hoped, he said that when he meets the Lord, the Lord will say, “Well done, faithful servant.”

By the way, if the Lord and the governor permit, he’d like to serve on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. And that was goodbye. He disappeared in a sea of arms reaching out to hug him before he headed home to await his fate.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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