Barbara Bichsel was born September 24, 1925 and passed away on May 13, 2021. A former Tacoma City Council member and deputy mayor, she lived a life of purpose, dedication to social justice, compassion and love. Barbara was beloved by her family and many friends.
Her life began in Duluth, MN, but her parents soon moved the family to Tacoma. Barbara attended Visitation Grade School, Aquinas Academy High School and Seattle University. On March 17, 1947 she married her high school sweetheart, Jim Bichsel, after his service in the Navy during WWII.
She met Jim when he was a student at Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma. She knew in an instant that he was the man she would marry. Voted "Mr. Bellarmine" Jim was a student athlete, scholar and the most handsome man she had ever seen. Together they built a wonderful life raising nine children in the Catholic faith. The whole family was active in Holy Rosary Parish and later St. Leo, where Jim's brother, Bill, served as assistant pastor. Barbara and Jim helped raise funds for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and Guadalupe House, and spent many hours volunteering at the soup kitchen and other Parish activities. Barbara served on the St. Leo Parish Council and was a dedicated and vocal supporter for programs serving the poor and social justice causes.
Barbara was a great mom. Every day, she was the chief menu planner and cook for her nine kids. She organized picnics, camping trips at Kalaloch beach in the Olympic National Park, the occasional Bichsel family summer Olympic games and family meals for Friday night volleyball games at the St. Leo Parrish gym. She was a sports fan and the loudest supporter at her children's high school basketball and football games. She encouraged her children to share her love of music, theater, sports and politics.
Barbara and Jim regularly hosted bridge parties at their home, welcoming all who came with a big smile and hug. Every year on their wedding anniversary (St. Patrick's Day) friends would drop by to celebrate with a bottle of Irish Whisky and laughter. Barbara loved to spend time listening to music. Broadway musicals, pop, jazz and classical were her favorites. An avid reader, she consumed history books, political biographies and romance fiction. She also enjoyed the occasional episode of a daytime soap opera.
Politics was her passion. A life-long Democrat, Barbara was active with the Pierce County Democrats and the League of Women Voters. She was a delegate to more state Democratic Conventions than she could count. Barbara towed her younger kids to mailing parities and worked on numerous political campaigns including Harold Moss, Bill Baarsma, Mike Lowry, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and many others. A photo of her with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy was prominently displayed in her home for years. She protested the Vietnam war and was a shining example to her children and friends of how to engage in things that mattered to them.
At age 50, Barbara decided that it was time to become an elected official herself. On her first attempt, she was elected to the Tacoma City Council in 1975 and served until 1986 - two years as Deputy Mayor. Barbara's work on the Council left an enduring legacy that is felt today. She was respected by many across the country as Tacoma's representative at the National League of Cities. Barbara did her homework as a Councilmember. She was the only vote against the City's investment in the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) - a position that was proven correct when WPPSS became the second largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. She advocated for the rights of utility ratepayers and served on the Pierce Transit board, becoming a leading voice for mass transit projects that are in operation today. Barbara championed the creation of the Tacoma Dome, the revitalization of downtown Tacoma and Ruston Way, the Pantages Theater, renovation of Tacoma libraries and its Summer Reading Program, among many other things.
After the City Council, Barbara served 8 years on the Tacoma Public Utility Board. Not yet ready to retire, she went on to be a popular tour guide at the State Capitol in Olympia - a position she held for 20 years. She loved keeping in touch with legislators and sharing her knowledge of the Capitol Building, the legislative process, and the Supreme Court. She left her tour guide duties at the age of 80 to care for Jim fulltime.
Barbara is preceded in death by her parents Norman and Irene McIver, husband Jim Sr., sister Joan, son Jim Jr. and great granddaughter Amelia.
She is survived by her children Mark (Carol), Bill (Cheri), daughter-in-law Linda, Laurey (Steve), Terry (Debbie), Joanie (Jackson), George (Anne), Elizabeth (Phil), Marianne (Wiley), 22 grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren (3 more are on the way) and dozens of nieces and nephews.
Barbara's family wishes to extend special thanks to Franciscan Hospice.
Final arrangements are being coordinated by Gaffney Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the St. Leo Food Connection at 1323 S. Yakima Ave. Tacoma, WA 98405.