First woman Mayor of Kirkland Doris Cooper dies at 85
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
May 16, 2011 · Updated 9:28 AM
Doris Munz Cooper was an outspoken member of the Kirkland community. From her days on the Houghton Community Council, to her election as the first female mayor of Kirkland, she always had an opinion. Cooper died on Friday, April 29 at the age of 85.
"I was a great fan of Doris," said Dave Russell, who served on the Kirkland City Council with Cooper for 10 years. "She was sometimes blunt but always on the mark. She always had the city's welfare at heart."
Cooper was the only woman on the Kirkland City Council for 16 years.
"She didn't carry pepper spray she carried two guns," said Kirkland Mayor and friend Joan McBride. "The first time I met her I was scared out of my mind. She was such an imposing figure. But she was courageous beyond belief to be a gal in a man's world."
She ran for mayor three times before being elected by her male peers in 1984. She served as mayor until leaving the city government in 1990.
Kirkland Heritage Society president Loita Hawkinson profiled Cooper in a newsletter story titled "Kirkland's accidental leader in 2010." Hawkinson quoted Cooper as saying, "Picking a city manager is harder than picking a husband and now that I’ve thought about it, the field is probably better."
But Cooper's start in politics came by chance as a stay-at-home Houghton mother-of-five.
"When the Houghton Mayor called and asked Doris to a meeting and possible position on the Board of Adjustments, Doris agreed to attend the meeting," wrote Hawkinson. "She did not know the mayor and had no idea why she had been called. When Doris introduced herself, it became clear that they had no idea who she was either. Our Doris Cooper was not the person they thought they had called."
The college graduate went on to serve seven years on the Board of Adjustments for the City of Houghton. She would go on to serve on the Houghton City Council and have a big hand in the creation of Houghton Beach Park. Cooper ran for Kirkland City Council in 1973 after Houghton was annexed. She decided to run for council in an attempt to continue to preserve the waterfront.
One of Cooper's biggest contributions to the City of Kirkland is its local parks.
"It was Doris and her fellow council members that took the 'buy now and develop later' stand," wrote Hawkinson. "Doris realized that our parks are Kirkland’s biggest asset and lack of money was a poor reason to lose them to commercial development."
"She and others saved our water front," said current Kirkland City Councilmember and friend Doreen Marchione.
Cooper led four park bond drives and the purchase of the property where the Waverly school had stood. That land would become Heritage Park.
"Well, I knew the waterfront was finite," Cooper said in an interview with the Museum of History and Industry in April of 2010. "And in the meantime there were what seemed like great condos going up on the waterfront blocking everything. And so it was a question of you’d better get in there and get it pulled out, get the land pulled out, or there would be no more chances."
Cooper was honored by MOHAI along with other Eastside women in politics, including Marchione. Marchione served as Redmond mayor at the same time Cooper was mayor of Kirkland.
"I first met Doris in the mid '70s when I was first elected to the Redmond City Council," said Marchione. "We used to carpool to meetings in Seattle. She was a mentor to me and a great leader for Kirkland."
Cooper was known for mentoring many councilmembers even after she left office.
"Doris was a mentor to me and many women, and some men, on the city council," said McBride. "She was an amazing champion for the city."
Cooper was also known for lightening the mood at times.
"One thing that made her unique was her dry sense of humor," said Russell. "It made the whole process better. She had a fierce commitment to preserve Kirkland's small town life, but some of the things she did were pretty new at the time."
Cooper was described as outspoken by most who worked with her. She attributed it to her family.
"Well, I think probably part of it has to be the fact that I was in the middle of five children and my dad was very outspoken about politics," said Cooper in the MOHAI interview. "He was a Republican. And I think it was a matter of survival, frankly, otherwise you would have been buried under all of this."
One former council member likened her to a bulldog.
Her honesty and passion came out in an interview with the Reporter in 2008 when asked about her part in parks issues: “There were a lot of people involved. If you write this only from what I tell you, it will really turn people off -- you don’t mind me telling you how to write this, do you?”
But Cooper was a trailblazer without whom the city would not have most of its current 500 acres in 40 parks.
Cooper was also a mentor for many women council members.
"I would say get a support group together. And do it," Cooper said of women running for office in the MOHAI interview. "There are plenty of talented women out there that can help you do your brochures or tell you what their experiences were and what it is you need to do. I think, I feel, that the women in politics are very anxious to help those coming along."
A service for Cooper is tentatively planned for June 11 at the Kirkland Congregational Church.Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.