Paul Schell: Mayor, Innovator, Friend

Bruce Chapman
Discovery News
July 27, 2014
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Paul Schell, a former Mayor of Seattle and civic innovator, died unexpectedly this morning from complications after heart surgery. Paul is remembered fondly at Discovery Institute as a founding Co-chairman of the Board in 1990 (with Tom Alberg) and served for several years in that capacity. He was my long time friend, his daughter Jamie a god-daughter.

Paul, born in Iowa in 1937, the son of a Lutheran pastor, went to Wartburg College (which has since honored him). He attended Columbia Law School in New York, where he met and married Pam. They moved to Seattle in 1967. A lawyer at the Perkins, Coie firm, and then in his own, Paul was active in Seattle's political reform movement of Seattle in the late 60s and early 70s. He chaired the Allied Arts organization at a key juncture in civic history--fighting for the Pike Place Market, historic preservation, neighborhood community groups and good urban design. He was part of the citizens group that combatted the erection of new freeways, such as the elevated Bay Freeway that would have walled off Lake Union.

I used to come to the Schells' house after church on a Sunday and one of Paul's favorite pastimes was driving around the city with Pam and me, pointing out where new buildings were going or where they should go. He saw the potential of the downtown's growth north to Lake Union long before others did. There surely has never been another local leader in Seattle as well-grounded, or as visionary, in city design.

Mayor Wes Uhlman made him the city's Director of Community Development, enabling Paul to give form and substance to ideas he had long promoted. He also gained practical experience with development issues and the operations of bureaucracy. After City service at this point he entered private development with Weyerhaueser support (the Cornerstone group) that had a major effect on the preservation and re-use of buildings along the Seattle waterfront.

In 1977 Paul ran and lost a spirited and principled race for Mayor, beaten by Charles Royer. He subsequently was elected to the Seattle Port Commission, where his service resulted in a number of improvements, including erection of the new International Conference Center, among other things. He was a long time exponent of better trade and cultural relations with our Northwest neighbors in Oregon and British Columbia and helped popularize the concept of "Cascadia". He encouraged and supported a project under that name at Discovery Institute that continues today.

In 1997 Paul ran again for mayor and this time was elected. In the coming years he was responsible for shepherding a number of new physical improvements, from street beautification to new libraries. He sought and rewarded good designers, architects and artists. He also was part of the current Seattle liberal social tradition and cultivation of the arts.

Paul's advocacy of Seattle as an international city was largely responsible for Seattle hosting the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999. Yet it also was his low point politically, as militant opponents of free trade mobilized to confront the event and a number of them engaged in what can only be called a riot. As a result, Mayor Schell was blamed by some for not employing police force soon enough and by others for doing it at all. He was defeated for re-election.

Paul and Pam Schell had a summer residence in Langley, WA, on Whidbey Island for many years, and made a permanent residence there for the past decade and a half. Both of them have been leading citizens in Langley and are personally the source of a number of attractive, even award-winning, buildings and businesses, notably the Inn at Langley. They have been the couple people could count on whenever a worthy civic cause was undertaken.

Paul's death comes as a shock to his friends and admirers. It will take time just to assess the many gifts of ideas, talent and time he made to his communities and all those who knew him. We grieve for a life cut off and for the loss of a visionary whose contributions are under-appreciated.

We also suffer the loss of a very long personal friendship. Paul was fun and enthusiastic, naive and yet intelligent, questioning and provocative, an idealistic romantic with a shrewd, practical feel for what could be possible in private life and public service. He was a rare creative force.

They write so many songs about lovers. I wish they wrote more about friends.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org.