I never met Dottie Stimpson. But she’s always felt like a good friend.
Stimpson was the founder and guiding light of Boise City Club. She died Monday in Seattle after several years of poor health.
The term “A life well lived” was invented for Dottie Stimpson. Her pivotal role in creating City Club 22 years ago takes up just one sentence in a two-page biography she wrote in 2011, at the beginning of the third of what she called “The Three Acts of My Life.”
Multiple influential jobs in public policy in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s and ’70s. Marriage to Ed Stimpson in 1964, who spent most his life doing aviation work, including service as U.S. ambassador to the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization that took the couple to Montreal. A lifetime of volunteerism and service to others, including endowing YMCA scholarships to students who practice civic engagement.
In Boise, in 1995, Dottie Stimpson had concluded that the times were nasty, political discourse was too coarse and a dose of civility and open-mindedness was needed. She started calling friends — or even complete strangers, in the case of Idaho Public Television host Marcia Franklin. Stimpson wanted to start a group to host open, respectful, civilized discussions, and she wanted Franklin.
“She said she needed someone to represent the ‘younger generation,’” Franklin recalled this week. “As anyone who ever met Dottie knows, you can’t say ‘no’ to her.” Franklin became a founding board member and made a friend for life.
My involvement with City Club started in 2006, and by then Stimpson had taken a lesser role; she moved to Seattle in 2011. But during my years as a board member, forum committee chair and president in 2015-16, I can attest that “What would Dottie think?” was a question frequently asked when making important decisions. She was delighted when, in 2009, City Club created an award for civic engagement named for Dottie and Ed Stimpson, and made them the first recipients.
Several people who knew and worked with Dottie shared their thoughts this week, and it’s their perspectives that are most valuable.
“Dottie’s vision, that ‘Nothing Happens Until People Start Talking’ (and ‘listening,’ she would add), guided the club even when she was no longer in Boise,” said Franklin. “She truly believed that people from opposing sides could come together — given enough time, communication and the right individuals leading the process.”
Diane Ronayne remembers Dottie paying special attention to the nonpartisan nature of City Club. Dottie herself had been a Democratic National Committee Woman and a co-founder of the Idaho Democratic Women’s Caucus, but she was committed to inviting well known Democrats and Republicans to be on the founding board.
“One quote from Dottie that I love has to do with choosing people for nonprofit board service,” Ronayne recalled. “She said City Club board members should offer the “Four W’s: work, wealth, wisdom and … WIT!”
“And for the most part, her boards were full of people exemplifying those criteria. The other thing she constantly promoted was civility of discourse. No matter how inflammatory the forum topic, she required presenters to show each other courtesy and asked the same of City Club members and their guests. Dottie’s values informed, guided and illuminated City Club in every way.”
Ronayne is not the only person to note that Idaho has now lost three leaders this year who modeled such tough, empathetic inclusiveness: Dottie, Marilyn Shuler and Gov. Cecil Andrus.
These can be discouraging times, and it can seem that the values that Dottie lived and evangelized are outmoded or obsolete or just naively ineffective. But every day I talk to people who feel, as Dottie did in 1995, that citizens with open minds and good will can’t sit on the sidelines. And all it takes is one glance around Boise and Idaho to see that tough, smart, dogged people are committed to doing good work, exhibiting compassion and respect, and modeling the values that Dottie Stimpson championed.