George Fleming with supporters
George Fleming with supporters (Photo courtesy of Fleming family)

George Flem­ing was an explo­sive half­back when the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton humil­i­at­ed the Big Ten in the 1960 and 1961 Rose Bowl games, and went on to become a stur­dy, con­struc­tive polit­i­cal play­er in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture for more than two decades.

George Fleming as a football player
George Flem­ing was a well known Husky foot­ball play­er who helped car­ry the team to vic­to­ry in the Rose Bowl (Pho­to cour­tesy of the Flem­ing family)

The death of Flem­ing at eighty-three has evoked Baby Boomer mem­o­ries of when the Dawgs upset favored foes two New Year’s Days in a row, and of the first African-Amer­i­can to serve in the State Sen­ate and cham­pi­on of such caus­es as the Mar­tin Luther King holiday.

“George Flem­ing was one of my child­hood heroes scor­ing touch­downs in the Rose Bowl as a Wash­ing­ton Husky, and he was a hero to me in adult­hood as he became a tire­less pub­lic ser­vant in the Leg­is­la­ture,” Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee said in a statement.

Seattle’s May­or-elect Bruce Har­rell, a for­mer Husky line­backer, added: “He nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to help me, advise me and inspire me.”

As a boy grow­ing up in Dal­las, Flem­ing had dreamed of play­ing in the Rose Bowl for UCLA, USC or Ohio State. As Dan Raley wrote in the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer: “The Bru­ins checked out Flem­ing first, urged the all-state run­ning back to spend a sea­son at East Lost Ange­les Junior Col­lege and lost inter­est when he was injured. Wash­ing­ton, a school not at all famil­iar to him, offered a place to land.”

Life was ini­tial­ly dif­fi­cult at Mont­lake, as the Dawgs went 3–7 and Flem­ing endured the Coach Jim Owens school of hard knocks.

The hard­est knocks were endured by Black ath­letes. But a 10–1 sea­son fol­lowed, cul­mi­nat­ing with a 44–8 blowout of favored Wis­con­sin in the Rose Bowl.

Flem­ing was named co-MVP in a game where he returned a punt 53 yards of a touch­down, ran back anoth­er 55 yards and caught a 65-yard pass from QB Bob Schloredt. He would set a record with a 44-yard field goal a year lat­er when the Huskies beat Min­neso­ta 17–7.

Flem­ing earned a busi­ness degree from the UW. After a brief career in pro foot­ball – he played for the Toron­to Arg­onauts and Win­nipeg Blue Bombers – he came home. Flem­ing worked for Pacif­ic North­west Bell, and in 1968 won elec­tion to the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Cen­tral Seattle’s 37th District.

Two years lat­er, he began a twen­ty-year tenure in the State Senate.

“I was one of those who tried to bring peo­ple togeth­er rather than push them apart,” Flem­ing would recall to Raley years later.

Flem­ing was a friend and mod­el to young Baby Boomers elect­ed to the Leg­is­la­ture, notably two who went on to high­er office.

George Fleming in action
George Flem­ing served as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and state sen­a­tor for two decades (Pho­to cour­tesy of the Flem­ing family)

“George Flem­ing was a close men­tor and a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion kind of leader,” said U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, whose first two years as a state sen­a­tor over­lapped with the end of Fleming’s tenure. “He touched so many lives and he will be missed by so many – includ­ing me.”

A young bud­get writer in the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, future Gov­er­nor Gary Locke, said in a state­ment: “George Flem­ing has always been my hero – from my child­hood days lis­ten­ing on the radio to his record-break­ing exploits in the Rose Bowl to our years togeth­er in the Legislature.

“He was a trail­blaz­ing leader of civ­il rights and was the con­science of the Leg­is­la­ture. He gave voice and pow­er to the for­got­ten and over­looked, every­day work­ing people.”

Oth­er fond mem­o­ries were offered by Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan.

Flem­ing was part of a State Sen­ate group, orga­nized by her father Sen­a­tor “Big Mar­tin” Durkan, that in the ear­ly 1970s oust­ed and took con­trol away from the musty Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship of the Legislature’s upper chamber.

He “broke so many bar­ri­ers,” the may­or added.

Flem­ing went on to work for Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools and lat­er King Coun­ty gov­ern­ment. “He fought yard to build a more inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty for all,” said UW Pres­i­dent Ana Mari Cauce. He will be missed but his lega­cy lives on all through­out the Wash­ing­ton com­mu­ni­ty and across our state.”

Flem­ing was induct­ed into the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Hall of Fame in 1980, named a Husky Leg­end in 1998, and induct­ed into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2012. He is sur­vived by Tina, his wife of fifty-four years, daugh­ters Son­ja and Yerni, and five grandkids.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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