Priscilla O'Leary
Priscilla O'Leary enjoying a cruise to Alaska

Per­haps the most impor­tant thing I’ve learned from being involved in pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics since the ear­ly 2000s is that the peo­ple you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work with are just as impor­tant as the work that you do. Friend­ships and team­work are the key to effec­tive activism. No one makes it on their own… we only suc­ceed with the help and sup­port of our friends, fam­i­ly, teach­ers, coach­es, and mentors.

Nei­ther I nor the team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute would be where we are today with­out the stal­wart sup­port of friends like Priscil­la O’Leary. Priscil­la was one of our ded­i­cat­ed Com­mon­wealth Bond­hold­ers — peo­ple who give month­ly to sus­tain NPI’s essen­tial research and advo­ca­cy. She had a bril­liant mind and was skilled at work­ing with data. Her con­tri­bu­tions to NPI, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and oth­er pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions were more than sub­stan­tial… they were immense.

Last night, after hav­ing bat­tled can­cer and the com­pli­ca­tions of surgery to remove it, Priscil­la passed away. She was fifty-nine, just a week shy of her six­ti­eth birth­day. A long-term thinker with a keen intel­lect and a strong will, Priscil­la had opt­ed last week to begin pal­lia­tive care. She had decid­ed that it was time for her to go.

It is tru­ly fit­ting she passed on from this life on her own terms.

Priscilla O'Leary
Priscil­la O’Leary enjoy­ing a cruise to Alaska

My team and I will miss her great­ly, but we are glad that her suf­fer­ing is over. We will always cher­ish her sup­port and wise coun­sel. She was a treasure.

I first met Priscil­la through my involve­ment in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. We both joined our local par­ty at around the same time in the mid-2000s. Then, the 45th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict was a bat­tle­ground most­ly rep­re­sent­ed by Repub­li­cans, with just one Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tor: Lar­ry Springer. That changed in 2006, when for the first time, the dis­trict elect­ed an all-Demo­c­ra­t­ic del­e­ga­tion to go to Olympia.

That his­toric vic­to­ry was unfor­tu­nate­ly not repli­cat­ed in the next midterm election.

Although the dis­trict returned to hav­ing a mixed del­e­ga­tion in 2010, it became all Demo­c­ra­t­ic again last year when Man­ka Dhin­gra was resound­ing­ly elect­ed to the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate in a fierce­ly con­test­ed spe­cial elec­tion. This year, Dhin­gra and her col­leagues Lar­ry Springer and Roger Good­man face only token oppo­si­tion, and each received over 60% of the vote in the August Top Two election.

Nev­er before have the vot­ers in the 45th so over­whelm­ing­ly backed all three of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­isla­tive can­di­dates on their bal­lots. It appears that the 45th is no longer a bat­tle­ground at all. Rather, it has become a safe Demo­c­ra­t­ic district.

The Top Two elec­tion was held at around the same time that Priscil­la had her surgery. I am very glad that she lived long enough to see and hear those num­bers. As a com­mit­ted Demo­c­ra­t­ic activist and a long­time mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee (WSDCC) from the 45th, Priscil­la cared deeply about elect­ing effec­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates to rep­re­sent the district.

She and I served on the board of the 45th Dis­trict Democ­rats togeth­er for over ten years. For five of those years, we rep­re­sent­ed the 45th togeth­er on the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, the gov­ern­ing body of the state party.

Priscil­la knew before she passed on that her work had helped cre­ate a strong Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty in the 45th. Her lega­cy will unques­tion­ably con­tin­ue to ben­e­fit pro­gres­sive caus­es and can­di­dates on the East­side for years to come.

No one worked hard­er over the years to pre­pare the 45th Dis­trict Democ­rats at cau­cus time than Priscil­la — espe­cial­ly in 2008 and 2016. If it weren’t for her, I’m not sure the 45th’s precinct and leg­isla­tive dis­trict cau­cus­es could have even tak­en place. With­out her prepa­ra­tion and orga­ni­za­tion, I think we’d have been sunk.

It is thanks to Priscil­la’s fore­sight that we nev­er had any prob­lems with our cau­cus paper­work. We always knew who we had elect­ed to be del­e­gates to the next lev­el, and we knew what sup­port each pres­i­den­tial can­di­date had received.

While Priscil­la cared pas­sion­ate­ly about many pro­gres­sive caus­es, I think it’s safe to say that pro­tect­ing and expand­ing LGBT rights was at the top of her list of con­cerns. I can still vivid­ly remem­ber her giv­ing a pas­sion­ate speech in sup­port of approv­ing Ref­er­en­dum 71 in 2009. (It passed, keep­ing expand­ed civ­il unions intact in Wash­ing­ton, and paved the way for mar­riage equal­i­ty three years later.)

Priscil­la’s part­ner Kris passed away sev­er­al years ago, depriv­ing Priscil­la of her clos­est com­pan­ion. In the after­math of Kris’ death, Priscil­la asked me for my exper­tise in set­ting up a web­site to remem­ber her, and I glad­ly oblig­ed. Even in dif­fi­cult times, Priscil­la always kept her focus and main­tained a strong work ethic.

I have many fond mem­o­ries of my years-long friend­ship with Priscil­la. We weren’t sim­ply col­leagues… we shared inter­ests beyond pol­i­tics, like moviego­ing. Priscil­la real­ly loved tak­ing in movies at iPic The­atres, often with a friend. For her, the cin­e­ma was a place to relax, unwind, and escape for a few hours.

For exam­ple, ear­li­er this year, she and I screened Ava DuVer­nay’s ground­break­ing film A Wrin­kle In Time at iPic. The film was a box office dis­ap­point­ment for Dis­ney, but we cer­tain­ly enjoyed spend­ing an evening watch­ing it. (The film is cur­rent­ly avail­able to stream on Net­flix, and I rec­om­mend it to any­one who has­n’t seen it.)

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty was not the only insti­tu­tion Priscil­la cared about. Priscil­la was also a val­ued, devot­ed employ­ee of T‑Mobile, spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty. She will doubt­less be remem­bered this week for her many years of con­tri­bu­tions to the com­pa­ny by her col­leagues in Factoria.

Priscil­la appre­ci­at­ed my pas­sion for secu­ri­ty and keep­ing peo­ple safe from scams of all kinds thanks in part to her work with T‑Mobile. I could always rely on her to offer thought­ful guid­ance when faced with a dilem­ma or a prob­lem of any kind. She was an excel­lent lis­ten­er as well as a crit­i­cal thinker. I val­ued every con­ver­sa­tion I ever had with Priscil­la, includ­ing our final chat a few days ago.

I will real­ly miss being able to strate­gize with her, but I’m grate­ful to have known her and worked with her since the mid-2000s. I hope to be able to cel­e­brate many much-need­ed vic­to­ries tomor­row night in hon­or of her, Al Gar­man, Elaine Phelps, and all the oth­er NPI sup­port­ers that we have lost this year.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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