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.
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.