Gilbert Carbone passed away peacefully on September 26 in Des Moines, Washington. He was 94.
Gil and his identical twin brother, Robert, were born on July 27, 1929 in Plentywood, Montana to Charley and Antonia Carbone. Their father was a section boss on the Great Northern Railroad, and Gil, Bob and their older brother Charlie, Jr. grew up in the section house provided by the railroad along the tracks.
After graduating from Plentywood High School, Gil followed the family tradition and went to work for the railroad for four years. While employed with Great Northern, he moved to Billings, Montana. He convinced brother Bob to share his apartment in Billings and enroll in Eastern Montana State College (now Montana State University - Billings). Gil paid the rent while Bob attended school. Later, Gil enrolled and served as Student Body President. He graduated in 1955 with a teaching degree.
After a couple of years teaching junior high in Billings, Gil took a job as the field services director for the Montana Education Association (MEA) in Helena. When he saw a photo of first-year teacher Phyllis Johnson on the cover of the MEA magazine, he persuaded a buddy to set him up with her. Two months after their first blind date, Gil and Phyllis were married at the Lutheran church in Phyllis’s hometown of Homestead, Montana, just seven miles from Plentywood.
Gil and Phyllis moved to Eugene, Oregon, where Gil earned a master’s degree at the University of Oregon in 1960. The couple then settled in Everett, Washington, where their four daughters were born between 1961 and 1965. Gil was a faculty member at Everett Junior College, teaching psychology courses.
During this time, Gil entered the University of Washington graduate school, studying educational administration, psychology and human behavior and working as the U.W. assistant director of college relations while earning his doctorate degree.
In 1965, the family moved to Boise when Gil was appointed executive director for higher education for the Idaho State Board of Education.
Gil was awarded his doctorate in 1967, and shortly thereafter he moved the family back to Washington State to take a post as assistant director of the newly established State Board for Community College Education in Olympia. He was employed there until his retirement in 1991.
Gil became active in Olympia city government in 1973, when an establishment being built across the road from his family’s home applied for a liquor license. He attended a city commission meeting to comment on the liquor application. When the commission meeting adjourned after only 5 minutes, Gil suspected that commissioners were making decisions behind closed doors in violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act. He was outraged.
He filed to run for mayor in an attempt to unseat the incumbent. He was dismissed as a “nobody” by the political old guard, but they underestimated him. Though unsuccessful in his bid for mayor, he launched an eight-year campaign to change to a council-manager form of government. His letters to the editor frequently appeared in the Daily Olympian.
Eventually, his one-man movement won the support of the League of Women Voters and community leaders. In 1982, Olympia voters passed a ballot measure to replace the commission with a seven-member city council. Gil ran for and won a seat on the newly formed council.
Gil served ten years on the Olympia city council. Over the course of his tenure, he chaired the traffic and transportation committee, represented the council on the Intercity Transit Authority and the Thurston County Economic Development Council and served as Mayor Pro Tem.
His legacy includes improvements to public buildings, neighborhood parks, streets, parking and traffic flow, stormwater management, and city utilities. The traffic circle at Fourth Avenue and Water Street became known as the “Carbone Carbuncle,” (affectionately or derisively, depending on your view.) He was the primary advocate for construction of the Percival Creek Bridge, paving the way for the revenue-generating Auto Mall as well as improving fire, police and emergency services to that area.
Of all his contributions, Gil was most proud of his role in creating Olympia’s community foundation. He was a member of the first board of directors of what is now the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound. Today, the Foundation holds over 100 separate funds, serves three counties, and has awarded more than $23 million in grants and scholarships.
Gil’s hobby as a musician spanned 72 years, beginning as a drummer in an American Legion drum and bugle corps. He played in school and college bands, dance bands in Plentywood and Billings, two civic symphonies, and during his retirement years, he led jazz quartets, quintets and septets playing numerous gigs around Olympia. Combining his love for writing and music, he authored and self-published a book, “A Band for All Seasons,” detailing the history of the Washington American Legion Band.
Gil is remembered as a gregarious, civic-minded man who was never shy with opinions or expletives. He was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. His love for his community was second only to his love of family.
Gil was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Phyllis. He is survived by his four daughters, Catherine Carbone Rogers and husband Ken, Carol Carbone, Carmen Andonian and husband Michael, and Christine DeBell and husband Jeff; son-in-law Chris Jellison; and 10 grandchildren.