"Exemplified What is Noble about Public Service"          return to SCeHMA

Sue Crystal, adviser to 2 governors, died August 25, 2001

Sue Crystal, an energetic activist and respected adviser to two governors, died of kidney cancer at her home in Olympia at age 48.

Crystal got involved in Indian affairs as the protege of professor Ralph Johnson at the University of Washington law school in the mid-1970s. After getting her law degree in 1978, she served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and as a special assistant to Sen. Warren Magnuson on Indian budget and policy issues.

While working for Magnuson, she was instrumental in acquiring land for the Wa He Lut Indian School near the mouth of the Nisqually River and helped negotiate the historic Puyallup Land Claims Settlement.

Crystal had an equally distinguished record in health care. She became director of the Washington State Health Care Authority in December 2000, overseeing health care benefits for public employees and poor families.

Before that, she ran Gov. Locke's health policy office and served as his executive policy director. Crystal also advised former Gov. Mike Lowry on health policy and American Indian issues.

Locke stated that her death was " an overwhelming loss both to me personally and to the state of Washington. Sue Crystal exemplified everything that is noble about public service."

In addition to her expertise in health care and Indian issues, Crystal had a law degree from the University of Washington, taught graduate studies in management at The Evergreen State College and helped lead state task forces on higher education and on regulatory reform.

Locke spokeswoman Dana Middleton said Crystal fought especially hard to make sure officials didn't forget the poor and disabled when they talked about health care. "Leaders at the highest levels of government relied on her expertise," Locke said. "Her vitality, compassion and inspiration will be greatly missed."

Crystal never shied from speaking the truth to people in power, said friend and co-worker Bruce Botka. He remembered her as candid, fearless and usually right. "There are a lot of people in public life who make a career of telling those above them what they want to hear," Botka said. "She was never like that."

"She was a rock star of policy," said said Eileen Sullivan, Crystal's longtime friend and former co-worker. "She traveled all over the country, talking about health care reform. After she finished speaking, people would rush the stage like groupies."

"She was an extraordinarily capable and intelligent person," added Patricia Zell, the majority staff director for U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a longtime friend of Crystal's, who traveled to Washington to be with Crystal in her last days.

"She could commandeer a lot of forces and people and bring resources to bear on whatever needs were identified. She did that all of her professional life."

"As a person, she was one of the strongest, boldest personalities that I've ever come across," Zell said. "Yet she was also very soft, loving and compassionate."

Her honesty and pluck were matched by her compassion and generosity, friends say. She was the glue that held together a group of friends, neighbors and co-workers who became like family to one another.

"She was the behind-the-scenes person who made everything work," said her husband, Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

And she always pitched in the annual kids-vs.-adults softball game on the day of Olympia's Lakefair parade. "That kind of symbolized her role at the center of us," Botka said. She loved throwing parties. "Even this summer she wanted to have that Fourth of July party," Botka said. The fireworks on the beach are always spectacular because her son, 19-year-old Willie Frank, and his friends usually work at the fireworks stands, he said. "This year, she wasn't able to come down to the beach, but she sat on the deck outside her window," Botka said. "And I know it gave her great joy."

Hank Adams, a close friend of Crystal's and Frank's since the Indian fishing struggles on the Nisqually and Puyallup rivers, said his two friends brought out the best in each other. "Crystal opened new worlds to Billy, and that made him stronger in his local world here.

"On her death bed, she had sage and sweetgrass and also the Star of David," Adams said. "She had those things with her to the end. Now both Indian and Jewish things go with her on this journey."