Sudden deaths took a trio of state’s business and Ag leaders | Don 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.

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 which makes our state and nation great.

Last February, Melanie Dressel, president and CEO of Tacoma-based Columbia Bank, suddenly died of heart disease. 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 long-time banker in metropolitan Puget Sound and went on to guide Columbia’s growth into our state’s 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 Wal-Mart 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 Democrat 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 which bind American entrepreneurs together.

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. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

Streamlining regulations helps Americans compete

The cost of regulations is a key American competitiveness issue. It is a major reason our companies re-locate to other countries and our manufacturers and farmers have difficulties competing internationally.

Railroads implementing positive track

While the investigation continues into the deadly AMTRAK derailment near Dupont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Finding balance in occupational licensing

Recently, the Institute for Justice (Institute) determined state licensing barriers for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs not only hurts people trying to establish themselves in a profession, but annually drives consumer prices up by $203 billion.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.