By Don C. Brunell
So far this year, a trio of unexpected deaths has shocked Washington business and agriculture. Melanie Dressel, Ron Reimann and Jeff Brotman leave behind large shoes to fill.
They came from vastly different backgrounds and political perspectives, yet it was their diversity, ingenuity and drive that makes our state and nation great.
Dressel, president and CEO of Tacoma-based Columbia Bank, died suddenly of heart disease in February. She was 64.
She was born and raised in Colville, a small farm and timber town, but stayed in Seattle after graduating from the University of Washington in political science. Dressel was a longtime banker in metropolitan Puget Sound and went on to guide Columbia Bank’s growth into the second largest Washington-based banking company by market value.
She told Seattle Business Magazine, which named her 2013 CEO of the Year: “I told my parish priest at age 6 that I wanted to be president of the United States…I grew up in the age of great politicians like Maggie (Warren G. Magnuson) and (Henry) Jackson. I planned to go to law school, then go into politics after college, but thought I should work for nine months first. I wanted weekends free so I could spend time with my husband. That’s how I got into banking.”
Dressel served on many banking, business and community boards and was awarded the 2011 American Banker Association Community Banker of the Year. Seven times ABA named her one of the 25 most powerful women in banking.
The second tragic death came on July 30 when prominent Eastern Washington farmer and Port of Pasco commissioner, Ron Reimann, 74, was killed when his farm vehicle was hit by a van near Kahlotus.
Reimann was raised on a dryland farm in Ritzville. Following graduation from Eastern Washington University with a degree in business, he enlisted in the Army. After his military service, he joined his wife’s twin brother, Ralph Thomsen, in forming T & R Farms in Moses Lake.
In 1973, they moved to the Pasco area to begin what has become a totally irrigated farm growing a variety of row crops, fruit trees and grains. T & R Farms is a leader in the advancement of irrigation technology and water resources management.
Earlier this year, Reimann and his wife were honored at the Oregon/Washington Potato Conference with the 2017 Industry Leadership Award. As president of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, he was a tenacious advocate for agriculture water rights.
Finally, on Aug. 1, Jeff Brotman, 74, Costco’s co-founder and chairman of its board, died in his sleep at his Medina home after attending a dinner with 2,000 store managers from around the world.
Brotman, who was born and raised in Tacoma, opened Costco’s first warehouse with Jim Sinegal in 1983 in Seattle. The company now operates 736 warehouses around the world, including 511 in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Costco was ranked as the world’s second largest retailer behind Walmart until Seattle-based Amazon surpassed both.
Brotman was more of a behind the spotlight philanthropist. He completed his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Washington and was appointed to the school’s board of regents. Brotman was a large contributor to Children’s Hospital, UW medicine and Tacoma’s Temple Beth El preschool and daycare.
Both Brotman and Sinegal actively funded Democrats and Sinegal was chosen to address the Democratic Convention in 2012.
Dressel, Reimann and Brotman leave behind families and unmatched legacies.
They were largely successful because they took risks, worked hard, were driven and innovated. Those are the common threads that bind American entrepreneurs together.
About Don Brunell:
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver, Washington. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.