Donn Charnley 1928-2023

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Former Washington State Rep. and Sen. Donn Charnley (D) of Shoreline, Washington, died Sunday morning Feb. 5, 2023, at Northwest Hospital in Seattle. He was 94.

Memorial contributions may be made to Camp Nor’wester, PO Box 1055, Edmonds, WA 98020, or online at; the University of Washington Melinda Denton Memorial Endowment Fund; San Juan Preservation Trust,; Northwest Geological Society,; or the Nature Conservancy of Washington, Donation.

Plans for a memorial gathering are pending.

A significant theme of his life was a love of the outdoors. While his children were at home, the family camped in the San Juans, sailed, canoed and kayaked in the Salish Sea, hiked in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges and skied in Washington, Idaho, Utah and Montana and British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

Donn was an avid hiker
For years he drove the family to Snoqualmie Summit where the children took skiing lessons from and he taught for Fiorini Ski School. He also played guitar and led songs from the US Army's 10th Mountain Division and others on the ski bus and in the lodge. His lifelong passion for the sport shaped many of his winter adventures.

He took legions of students on geology field trips around the state, often driving the Snoqualmie Pass highway and describing geological structures over walkie-talkies while en route to set up camp and explore Frenchman Coulee near Vantage on the Columbia River. 

With students' legs dangling over a dry fall, he described the cataclysmic Missoula Floods that periodically gouged their way through Central Washington, down the Columbia River and into the Willamette Valley at the end of the last ice age.

Donn with a student at Shoreline Community College
His interest in politics began while attending the University of Washington where he met and was active in issues and candidates with first wife, Frances “Libby” Graves.

He spent decades teaching, including driver training when he was a counselor at West Seattle High School and later as a professor of his beloved geology from January 1964-December 1996 at Shoreline Community College.

He retired from SCC after 32 years but continued teaching geology to mostly retirees in adult education programs throughout the Puget Sound Basin, including the Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds Community College.

In more recent years the complicated visuals he learned to create embellished his PowerPoint presentations to augment his courses. Altogether, he taught for 56 years, until the COVID-19 quarantine in 2020.

He was active throughout the 1960s in the civil rights movement, Zero Population Growth, the PTA, ecological and environmental issues, the Kidney Foundation, Northwest Geological Society, the Democrat Party and various boards.

He served in the Washington State House of Representatives in the 44th District in north King County from 1971-1981, was Majority Whip for a couple of terms, and served in other leadership posts and on a variety of committees in the House, including Transportation.

As a freshman legislator, Charnley and other first-time representatives from the Seattle area were relegated to the back row of the House and told to not speak, watch and listen. The legislators made headlines by vociferously refusing to be quiet, saying they were elected and there to represent their constituencies.

In 1971 he was elected to the
state legislature
Elected to the state Senate in 1980, he was gerrymandered out of his constituency in 1982 when the district boundary was redrawn south around his house to include his home in the 1st District to the north.

He ran for and was elected for another term in the House in 1982. He subsequently lost the election for the state Senate to the incumbent in 1984.

Henderson Camps for Boys and Girls on Lopez Island, which later became Camp Nor’wester now on Johns Island, was a large part of Charnley’s childhood and adult life. As counselors in the 1940s at Henderson’s, Charnley met his best friend, Bill Holm, a teacher, artist, art historian and author focused on Indigenous Northwest Coast art. 

Because of their friendships with the Kwakwaka’wakw people on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, tribal guests came to Henderson/Nor’wester to share their culture, art, music, stories and heritage with thousands of campers over the years.

The joy Charnley gained from traveling, geology and all things outdoors thoroughly rubbed off on his children who also sing many of his favorite folk songs, from the Weavers, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary to old English sea shanties and shipwreck sagas.

During his marriages, Charnley had Scott and Annie with Frances “Libby” Graves; Brent, Janet and Craig with Lucile Janousek (now Rock); and Alan with Dr. Melinda Denton.

It’s only in the last several years that he slowed down tremendously. He had skied into his late 80s, read voraciously and enjoyed travel in the South Pacific, Norway, Greece, Europe, Alaska and the Galapagos.

He was born April 3, 1928, in Detroit, Michigan, to journalism professor Mitchell V. Charnley and writer mother Margery “Peg” Lindsay.

He grew up and attended schools in Tacoma, and graduated from Broadway High School on Capitol Hill in Seattle. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a masters in geology from the University of Washington and a masters from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

His family includes companion Corinne Waters of Bellingham, Washington; children Scott Charnley of Shoreline, Annie Charnley Eveland of Walla Walla, Washington, Brent Charnley of Lopez Island, Washington, Janet Charnley of Snohomish, Washington, Craig Charnley of San Francisco, California, and Alan Charnley of Shoreline; eight grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.


Dick and Linda Hooper,  February 9, 2023 at 1:18 PM  

From his career as an enthusiastic geology professor to his accomplishments as a true legislator and statesman (not just a politician), to his work with Camp Norwester , we watched Donn march through life. He was fun, entertaining, smart as a whip and a genuinely kind human being. He was our friend and next door neighbor for over 40 years. We will miss him deeply.

Cindy Briggs,  March 5, 2023 at 9:14 AM  

Always smiling, and always wearing shorts in the dead of winter, Donn was a great inspiration to students at Bellevue College's Telos Program for Retirees. He had a following in his detailed and inspiring geology classes.

Anonymous,  February 8, 2024 at 3:10 PM  

I am a year late to this event. My name is Martin and I live in Chicago, IL. However, in 1981, I was a student at Western Washington U and I spent a legislative session serving as an intern to Donn. Donn was the epitome of kind, caring, cogent and intelligent legislation and humaning. I recall him saying at the time his biggest goals were to allow WA residents to take half finished bottles of wine home from restaurants, and mandating car seats for infants. Donn took me under his wig (as did his admin, Linda) and I was very educated and grateful for their mentorship. Thanks Donn. It really taught me a lot about you, me and humanity.

Post a Comment

We encourage the thoughtful sharing of information and ideas. We expect comments to be civil and respectful, with no personal attacks or offensive language. We reserve the right to delete any comment.
Facebook: Shoreline Area News
Twitter: @ShorelineArea
Daily Email edition (don't forget to respond to the email)

  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP