This story has been updated to reflect that the Tri-Citian of the Year banquet scheduled for April 23 has been postponed for coronavirus.
Fran Forgette famously stepped out of the room when during the 2001 Tri-Citian of the Year banquet, unaware he was the guest of honor.
The speaker dragged out the introduction until a very surprised Forgette returned.
Nearly two decades later, Forgette still laughs at the memory. Ever since, he’s cautioned friends to keep their seats if they attend the banquet, in case they turn out to be the year’s honoree.
The 2020 Tri-Citian of the Year banquet that was scheduled for April 23 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The nomination deadline has passed but tickets and sponsorships are available at tricitianoftheyear.org.
Forgette recently gave up one of his many seats when he retired from his law practice at the end of 2019, capping a 40-year career that saw him take a role in almost every aspect of the community from business to civic.
He retains posts on several important boards but said he is giving himself six months of breathing room before he considers a second chapter.
He is, he said, open to ideas and inquiries.
For Forgette, being named Tri-Citian of the Year was both an honor and welcome chance to show the legal profession in a positive light.
The award, the Tri-Cities’ highest honor, doesn’t just reflect on the honoree. It’s a moment to pause and mark the community’s accomplishments and the contemplate what is still to be done.
If, or when, Forgette takes up the next chapter, it will not entail practicing law. When he retired, he relinquished his license. His name will remain on the Kennewick firm he joined after graduating from the Gonzaga School of Law - Rettig Forgette Iller & Bowers.
In the interim, in true Forgette fashion, he remains chair of two boards—the Association of Washington Business board and the Washington State University Tri-Cities advisory council.
Both echo decades of commitment to the Tri-Cities that began simply enough with a job hunt in the late 1970s.
A Seattle native, Forgette went to the University of Washington and then studied law at Gonzaga. He graduated in 1977. His hometown was struggling economically and there were no jobs for lawyers.
Forgette opted for the Tri-Cities after reading that it was one of the fastest-growing economies in the country in that year’s edition of Progress in the Tri-City Herald.
He suspected he would enjoy it but figured that worst case scenario, he would pay off student loans working here.
The job worked out, and then some. Forgette and his wife, Debbie, raised two sons, now adults living in Seattle.
Forgette said he enjoyed the diversity of his Tri-City practice. In a larger market he would have had to specialize, but her, he was able to everything from estate and family law to business.
And he had a hand in just about every civic venture.
He led the Save Our Dams effort to protect the lower Snake River Dams from environmentalists demanding their removal—a fight that has been revived in recent years.
When he learned one of his sons’ teachers was spending his own money on classroom equipment, Forgette established Adopt-A-Disk, which funneled donations from business to local elementaries to support technology. At its peak, Adopt-a-Disk touched every primary in the four Tri-Cities.
He served as volunteer counsel for the Tri-Cities Development Council or TRIDEC then joined the board. After 15 years and two terms as chair, he stepped off as the longest-serving board member at the time.
He lent his professional and volunteer support to the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, a collaborative effort of the three area hospitals. The community, he said, wanted to see the hospitals collaborate.
He helped lead efforts that led to the establishment of the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland and has remained involved ever since.
WSU has played a larger role in his adult life than his actual alma mater, UW, he said.
Recent Tri-Citian of the Year honorees include real estate executive Dave Retter, builder Don Pratt, restaurateurs Steve and Shirley Simmons and Columbia Center mall manager Barbara Johnson.
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