Former county commissioner Dick Caldwell dies at 83

Dick Caldwell, a former Island County commissioner and conservative voice on Whidbey, has died.

The Coupeville man was on a cruise with his wife, Joan, and contracted pneumonia. He made it back to Whidbey Island but did not recover and died Monday, Sept. 25.

He was 83.

Caldwell’s death was unexpected and friends said his integrity, honesty and insight are a sore loss for Whidbey.

“Dick was a champion,” said Rufus Rose, a Clinton resident and long-time friend. “We shall miss him greatly.”

Caldwell, a Republican, was appointed to the board of commissioner’s district 1 position in February of 1987. He was subsequently elected to the seat twice, representing South and Central Whidbey for a total of six years. He decided not seek reelection in 1992, choosing instead to run an unsuccessful bid for the District 10 Senate seat in 1992. He lost to Mary Margaret Haugen.

Caldwell was commissioner when the state Legislature adopted the Growth Management Act of 1990. He was also one of those who shepherded the acquisition of the land that became Double Bluff beach park, and he supported the creation of the Conservation Futures Fund, a funding mechanism used to purchase proprieties identified in need of conservation.

Rose said Caldwell later worried that the fund “had grown into something that was not good for the county.”

Caldwell was also not known for varnishing his opinions, a trait that at times even irked members of his own party. His fellow Republican commissioners, Gordon Koetje and Dwain Colby, once declined to appoint Caldwell chairman of the board despite it being his turn in the rotation. According to a 1991 South Whidbey Record story, Caldwell had disagreed with the others in his opposition to increasing taxes and fees during a time of budget deficits. Colby also complained about Caldwell’s direct candor with county employees.

“One thing about Dick is he was always very honest, even if it hurt,” Joan Caldwell said.

Rose said he had “exceptionally high standards about public service” and that he found him to be an “exceptionally conscientious public servant.”

Prior to his appointment as commissioner, Caldwell worked for 20 years as business and financial manager for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The last nine of those years was as a budget director; he reportedly shepherded over a $2 billion budget.

Caldwell was a graduate of the University of Washington with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in liberal arts.

He was a member of the Island County Property Rights Alliance, the Island County Republican Party and a supporter of Citizens Against Domestic &Sexual Abuse (CADA). He also worked as the director of Island County senior services for about five years following his bid for state Senate.

Finally, Joan Caldwell said her husband was also a “great family man.” With him, family always came first, she said.

He leaves behind three sons, Scott, Dan and Tim, and four grandchildren.

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