Nan Campbell, Bellevue's First Female Mayor, Dies After Suspicious Fire

Nov 20, 2013

Nan Campbell, Bellevue's first female mayor, died on Tuesday.
Nan Campbell, Bellevue's first female mayor, died on Tuesday.
Credit Courtesy of Patty Campbell

When Don Davidson joined the Bellevue City Council in 1984, a fellow council member offered sage advice: “Get along with Nan. It’ll go a long way.”

Nan was Nan Campbell, the council member who became the city’s first female mayor in 1988. She died on Tuesday, two weeks after falling while fleeing a fire that engulfed her east Bellevue apartment building. She was 87.

Her 10-unit building, one of about three dozen at Hampton Greens – a sprawling, 16-acre property off 148th Avenue Northeast – was destroyed. The fire is being investigated by Bellevue Police, Bellevue Fire and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Davidson, who still sits on the Bellevue council, said the other council member’s advice was spot on. Campbell was a born leader, he said, someone who exuded calm as she mediated the debate of how Bellevue should grow.  

At the time in the mid-1980s, Bellevue was beginning to grow, and the city was divided between those who wanted planned growth and those who worried about sprawl. Campbell had been appointed mayor by her fellow council members and was therefore in charge of facilitating the debate.

Campbell, Davidson said, managed the situation with grace. But sometimes, on retreats, she and other council members would disagree, and they would tell her to quit mothering them. 

“If I described her relationship – it was kind of the mother,” he said. “I shouldn’t use that term – it’s a female connotation. But we’d get into these discussions, and some of them would get so frustrated they’d say, ‘Quit mothering me.’”

Hearing Davidson’s description, Nan Campbell’s daughter, Patty Campbell, laughed.

“She was much older than the rest of them,” she said. “She’s always had this mothering quality with everyone.”

Patty Campbell said community meant everything to her mother – and community “meant everything from family to political rivals.”

Nan Campbell married Bruce Campbell, a Boeing engineer who built a hangar in their garage, and had two daughters, Patty and Ann. In a brief biography she wrote in 2003, she described herself as a stay-at-home mom who was encouraged to run for city council. She served from 1982 to 1989 and was elected mayor by her fellow council members in 1988 and 1989.

She remained active in community service and various task forces after leaving the council.  

“It seemed to me she was against huge skyscrapers in downtown Bellevue – obviously it changed a little bit over the years,” Patty Campbell said. “She was more about getting parks in there along with the development – something for the community as well.”

That may have been why her apartment at Hampton Greens appealed to her.

“It was a very nice, clean one-bedroom tucked away in the back of this apartment complex,” Patty Campbell said. “She could look out at the trees, and she was still close enough to everything.”

Nan Campbell remained independent and meticulously organized until her dying day, when she simply stopped breathing, Patty Campbell said. That’s how she wanted to go, she said.

“This is a woman who was in control of her whole life,” she said. “She was completely in control of mental faculties until the end. She was still giving us tasks from her hospital bed so that she could make sure everything got done. It’s amazing.”

Nan Campbell was doing well on Election Day, when the fire broke out. She pestered her daughters to watch election results – she was most interested in candidate Lynne Robinson, who did win her Bellevue City Council race.  

The Nov. 5 fire was referred to Bellevue Police, according to Bellevue Police Officer Carla Iafrate. Iafrate said investigators are still “sifting through all the evidence and interviewing people.”

Six residents and one firefighter were sent to area hospitals, although their names have not been released. 

Iafrate, who arrived on scene that early Tuesday morning to assist the fire department, called it a major fire. About 100 firefighters and police arrived on scene and brought the fire under control in about an hour and a half. Immediately after the fire, investigators estimated the damage at $1.5 million.