David Carey, a five-term Walla Walla County commissioner and 14-year Walla Walla School Board member whose public service and advocacy helped pave the way for expansion of U.S. Highway 12, died New Year’s Day. He was 84.
Carey had been battling prostate cancer and had been living in the Seattle area at the home of his daughter Julie Del Moro and her husband.
“It was very hard for him to be in Seattle this past 16 months. Walla Walla has always been his home,” she said.
Funeral Mass will be Saturday, Jan. 11, at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. A reception will follow internment.
Carey’s service to the community was guided by his roots in faith, family and farming. Associates and friends described him as a gentleman of integrity, driven to improve life in his rural community. As a Republican commissioner, he was praised during his retirement celebration in 2008 for his ability to work across the table and the aisle with people of all political affiliations.
Once asked to consider a run for the state Senate, Carey turned down the request because he wanted to keep his biggest efforts on a local level, Del Moro said.
Among his biggest victories, she said, was to see the transformation of U.S. Highway 12 from a two-lane highway connecting Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities into four lanes. Early in his political career he had been told by state transportation officials it was a project that would never be achieved in his lifetime. Carey reiterated that in 2008 during a ceremonial celebration of the completion of the third several more phases of the project.
“We have done great wonders getting where we are today,” he told about 125 people gathered for that event.
That project was one of the most significant because of its overall impact to the community — improving safety to the general public and transportation access for both commerce and visitors.
“As far as a legacy, that’s what he would want,” Del Moro said. “He was able to help Walla Walla grow.”
Born in Walla Walla County on July 17, 1935, Carey spent most of his life here. He attended Washington State University for 3½ years and graduated from J.M. Perry Institute with his airframe and power plant license.
He was a licensed pilot and aircraft mechanic who served two years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
A farmer, he raised wheat, barley, peas, Walla Walla Sweet Onions, hay and cattle.
On Dec. 24, 1954, he married Maralyn Golden. The couple had three daughters — Del Moro, Nancy Danforth and the late Jackie Bernhart — and raised them on the farm, where Del Moro said they learned from their dad’s hard work ethic, developing pride in the joy of a long hard day’s work.
“If he needed somebody to drive combine, his daughters were there. If he needed somebody to drive a semi-truck his daughters were there,” Del Moro said. “He encouraged them to pursue their passions, bring it forth and pay it back.”
He was elected to the school board in 1975 and served 14 years, four as chair.
He followed that in 1989 with election to the Walla Walla County Board of Commissioners, representing District 2.
District 3 Commissioner Greg Tompkins served beside Carey and described him as “the utmost gentleman, always doing what he thought was right for the county.”
When Tompkins first ran for election, he knew of Carey through their professional dealings and was eager to learn about county government from Carey.
He described Carey as passionate about protecting dams and property rights and willing to push back on mandates he did not believe were in the best interest of the community.
“I saw him do that numerous times,” Tompkins said.
“I’m just better for having known Dave. He really taught me a lot.”
Former Commissioner Pam Ray counts one of her proud accomplishments serving alongside Carey on the Regional Transportation Planning Organization that advocated for progress on U.S. Highway 12 as a precursor to the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition’s formation.
Ray, the first and only woman to serve as a Walla Walla County commissioner, said the pressure she felt when first elected was quelled by the professionalism of her fellow board members. When she opted not to seek re-election at the end of her term in 2004, Ray said she was able to continue a friendship with Carey and his wife.
“Dave and Maralyn were just a class act,” she said. “Together they were a force and were so proud to be a part of this community, and honestly they were big contributors.”
His wife’s health was a reason Carey said in 2008 he planned to step away from elected leadership. He also praised her — “She makes me who I am” — among his keys to success, along with his faith and those who supported him, during his retirement party.
“I have served you, the citizens of Walla Walla County, for five consecutive terms. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you,” he announced in 2008 at the Walla Walla County Republican Convention. “I will be retired at the end of this term. Now it is time for me to devote all my time and energies to Maralyn and her fight for health.”
His wife preceded him in death in 2015.
Highly decorated and known for his work among numerous professional organizations and those of personal interest, Carey’s service included serving as member and past president of the Washington Association of Counties, the Washington State School Directors Board, Washington State Transportation Enhancement Committee, and Washington Counties Legislative Steering Committee, among many others.
In 1995 he received the Award of Merit from the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce as its Man of the Year. His other service appointments included founding member and treasure of the Walla Walla Community College Foundation board, Walla Walla Symphony board, Walla Walla Camp Fire board and member of St. Patrick’s Church, among others.