Ed Penhale passed away on 3/24/06 after three years of battling a rare form of cancer, liposarcoma. Ed was born March 25, 1951 in Concord, New Hampshire to William D. and Mildred (Funk) Penhale.
The article below published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and written by Neil Modie, captures the life and spirit of our beloved Ed.
Ed Penhale, 1951-2006: Former reporter had love for policy
By NEIL MODIE
Washington's schoolteachers don't realize it, but they can thank Ed Penhale, the unbureaucratic bureaucrat, for helping get them higher salaries and smaller class sizes.
A year ago, Christine Gregoire was the new governor, putting final touches on her first state budget, when she sat down with Penhale, the blunt-spoken communications director of her budget office. "I've gotta tell you," he cautioned, "as a governor, you cannot go out there and sell a budget you do not love."
At home that night, Penhale's admonition gnawed at Gregoire. The next morning, she halted the printing of the budget, "and that's how we funded education," she said Friday.
Because of Penhale, she recalled, "I realized I couldn't go out there and say I loved it because I didn't love it because it didn't fund the two most important things in the state" -- restoring voter-approved money for class-size reductions and teacher-pay increases. She added that money.
Penhale, who died Friday at his home in Olympia, helped two Washington governors, Gary Locke and then Gregoire, do what he previously did as a reporter with the Seattle P-I: cut through the sometimes foggy language of bureaucracy to make public policy understandable to the public.
After the budget was revised, Gregoire said, "Ed came back to me, and with a little look in his eye, he said: 'Now you love it. Now you can sell it.' "
Despite Penhale's sardonic, curmudgeonly demeanor, "everybody around here will tell you, he and I had a huge connection," the governor said. "We got along unbelievably well."
Penhale's death, a day before his 55th birthday, ended a grueling, three-year fight with liposarcoma, a relatively rare, viciously aggressive form of cancer. But he loved public policy, he loved being at the center of policy-making and politics, and he continued going to work until he became too ill and too weak a few weeks ago.
Directness, certainly more than diplomacy, was a strong suit of Edward William Penhale. Even after switching careers from journalist to bureaucrat, he exhibited a journalist's stereotypical impatience with bureaucracy in the state Office of Financial Management, the governor's budget agency.
"Ed had little use for compound sentences or thoughts" in news releases and staff strategy meetings, said Hal Spencer, a colleague.
"He would slump in his chair to listen to all the clever thoughts and hand-wringing that attend these discussions, and then he would clear his throat and speak. Basically, he would say: 'If you want to look bad, do this. If you want to look good, do this.' "
Sometimes the ex-newspaper reporter would present his advice in the form of two opposing, facetious headlines to suggest the proper strategy for selling the governor's budget to the public -- for example: "Governor Hates Poor People," vs. "Governor Stands for Fiscal Discipline."
Joe Dear, who was then-Gov. Locke's chief of staff, remembered Penhale as "the caring cynic. He did bring a skeptical eye to the political world, but he brought a lot of heart to his work in government and journalism."
Dear said Penhale was enormously talented at enhancing the governor's ability to convey his ideas.
"I just remember him fondly as a guy you're glad was at the table," Dear said. "He was a joy to work with, even when he was being irascible."
A political junkie, Penhale was communications director of Locke's successful re-election campaign in 2000 and was involved in campaign and debate strategy as well as communications strategy.
"I did a pretty good job at keeping the press at bay, I think," the ex-reporter reminisced a few weeks ago. "It was my view that it's always easier to keep the media in line if you always told them the truth."
During a 25-year newspaper career, 14 of them at the Seattle P-I, from 1984 to 1998, Penhale preferred writing about the often mundane world of public policy and politics to the more sensational or glamorous stuff of murder trials and stories about celebrities.
Penhale was editor of the University of New Hampshire student newspaper, in his home state. After graduation in 1973 and a year as a reporter at a newspaper in Dover, N.H., he and his college sweetheart, Regan Robinson, moved west to seek careers.
Robinson recalled Friday that at Penhale's first job here, at the weekly Highline Times in Burien, he liked covering even such government topics as sewer districts because "he understood that where sewers go, development follows."
Penhale came to the P-I in 1984 and covered county government, then courts and then state government in Olympia. Then he decided he wanted to be a player, not just a spectator, in that arena.
In journalism and later in politics and government, "his piece in the whole puzzle was taking the issues and getting the public to understand," said Ian MacGowan, an Olympia lobbyist and longtime friend. "That was an important role, and he was good at it, and he got better and better at it."
Penhale had other passions, too, that fed his restlessness. He was a ski racer in college, and he loved motorcycles. Traveling alone in Southeast Asia in 1990, he recalled a few weeks ago, "I got a 125cc dirt bike in Malaysia and drove all around Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, all over the place."
He never married but never lacked for female companionship -- smart, strong women who, after they split up with Penhale, remained friends with him and with one another, MacGowan said.
Penhale's male friends marveled enviously at how appealing so many women seemed to find a sardonic, hunched-over, caustically witty chain smoker.
"He was just terrifically attractive," said Robinson, who remained his companion for 12 years. "Certainly his intelligence was attractive."
Debora Merle, his close companion for the past two years, was with Penhale when he died. His other survivors include his parents, William and Mildred Penhale, of Durham, N.H., and three brothers, David, of Aspen, Colo., Jim, of Vail, Colo., and Tom, of Newton, Mass.
Arrangements are pending.
"Knowing Ed, he wouldn't want services," MacGowan said. "He wanted a party."
In keeping with his wishes, a party for friends is to be arranged within a few weeks.
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