Former Washington Gov. Albert D. Rosellini, whose tenure in office was defined by efforts to reform state prisons and modernize mental health institutions, died Oct. 10 in Seattle of complications from pneumonia. He was 101.
The death was confirmed by his daughter Lynn Rosellini.
A Democrat and son of Italian immigrants, Albert Rosellini served as governor for eight years, ending in 1965.
His first term as governor has been praised as one of the most effective and progressive in state history. In particular, he was credited with improving nightmarish conditions in state prisons, mental hospitals and juvenile homes.
At the time, some inmates were still bound in manacles and housed in cells with buckets for toilets. Gov. Rosellini fought for more modern facilities, training of staff members, jobs for inmates and forestry camps for low-risk offenders.
He also helped push for the creation of the SR 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, from Seattle to Medina, Wash., that bears his name.
Albert Dean Rosellini, the son of Italian immigrants, was born Jan. 21, 1910, in Tacoma, Wash. His father, Giovanni, opened a saloon but was forced to close it during Prohibition. The family moved to Seattle’s Rainier Valley, a neighborhood nicknamed “Garlic Gulch” for its large Italian American community.
In 1926, his father was sent to prison for a year for trying to smuggle drugs out of Mexico, a traumatic experience that Gov. Rosellini later said pushed him to study law.
After graduating from the University of Washington law school in the early 1930s, he was hired by King County Prosecutor Warren G. Magnuson.
Gov. Rosellini was elected to the state Senate in 1938 and served for 18 years. He championed the creation of the medical and dental schools at the University of Washington.
After losing a race for governor in 1965 to Republican Daniel J. Evans, Gov. Rosellini went into the beer business, opening Premium Distributors, a Seattle distributor of Olympia Beer.
Gov. Rosellini was hounded throughout his career by suspicions he was doing improper favors for friends and political supporters.
It was as a young lawyer that Gov. Rosellini had his first recorded dealings with strip club magnate Frank Colacurcio Sr., defending him on a statutory rape charge. Colacurcio Sr. was convicted in 1943 and sent to prison.
Well into his 90s, Mr. Rosellini returned to the headlines for connections to Colacurcio Sr. and the 2003 campaign-finance scandal at Seattle City Hall, dubbed “Strippergate.”
Gov. Rosellini personally delivered campaign contributions connected to Colacurcio Sr. to some Seattle City Council members. The effort came about the time Colacurcio Sr. was pushing to rezone a parking lot for Rick’s, a Lake City, Wash., strip club. Gov. Rosellini owned the gas station and carwash next door.
Ethics investigators determined that many of the donations were illegal and that Colacurcio Sr. had used straw donors to sidestep campaign contribution limits.
Gov. Rosellini dismissed the scandal and was not accused of criminal wrongdoing. But it led to the defeat of two council members who had sought Gov. Rosellini’s fundraising help, and criminal convictions for Colacurcio Sr., his son and an associate. Colacurcio Sr. died in 2010 at 93.
Gov. Rosellini's wife, the former Ethel McNeil, died in 2002. Survivors include five children and 15 grandchildren.