Jennifer Dunn, the subject of a new biography from the Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, bounded onto the political stage as an effective political activist while rearing two young sons as a single mother. She eventually became the first female leader of the state Republican Party and went on to acclaim as a high-ranking member of Congress, a friend of presidents, and a voice of civility in politics and government.
The late congresswoman is the latest extraordinary Washingtonian to be spotlighted by The Legacy Project, the oral history program created in 2008 by the Legislature within the Office of Secretary of State and its planned Washington State Heritage Center.
The Dunn project, including a biography, facts at-a-glance, and scrapbook photographs, was published online today at http://www.sos.wa.gov/legacyproject/oralhistories/JenniferDunn/default.aspx All of the materials are free. A rollout ceremony, hosted by Secretary of State Sam Reed and the Dunn family, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Bellevue.
"It is my great pleasure to honor the amazing Jennifer Dunn with a biography that tells her inspiring story as a political trailblazer in both Washingtons," Reed said Tuesday. "She used her position to advance the idea that politics and government are a noble calling, and that civility and collaboration can achieve much more than negativism and partisan gridlock. Her story will serve as a great example for girls and women who aspire to public service. She was a class act, and a genuine friend to many." The project was written by Trova Heffernan, based on numerous interviews from family and colleagues, press accounts and Dunn interviews spanning her lengthy career, and other archival materials.
It is the first posthumous biography published as part of The Legacy Project. Eight oral histories also have been published as part of the recently launched project that operates on a shoestring budget and involves no publication cost. Subjects have included former First Lady Nancy Bell Evans, astronaut Bonnie J. Dunbar, Bremerton civil rights pioneer Lillian Walker, and Krist Novoselic, the Nirvana rocker who became a civic activist. The story of former Governor Booth Gardner, Senator Gorton, and other oral histories are in preparation. The Legacy Project is a partner in the Washington State Heritage Center that is planned for the Capitol Campus and, online, statewide. All stories can be found at http://www.secstate.wa.gov/legacyproject/OralHistories.aspx
Jennifer Jill Blackburn, a distant cousin of Sen. Slade Gorton, was born in Seattle in 1941 to Jack Blackburn, a Canadian immigrant, and Helen Gorton. She had a younger brother, John. After graduating from Bellevue public schools, she graduated from Stanford and worked for IBM and participated in grassroots politics. She married Dennis Dunn, a Harvard graduate, in 1965, and they had two sons, Reagan, named for Jennifer Dunn’s political hero, Ronald Reagan, and Bryant. The Dunns divorced in 1979, and Jennifer Dunn was a single mother while rearing their sons. She worked hard for Reagan’s losing battle for the GOP presidential nomination in 1976, and other campaigns, eventually becoming state Republican chairwoman, serving for more than a decade.
In 1992, the year of a Democratic landslide, she was elected congresswoman from the 8th District, the only Republican member of the House delegation in 1993 and 1994. She served until 2005, rising to vice chair of the majority conference, at the time the highest rank held by a woman in the House. She was a frequent spokeswoman for the party, delivering the GOP response to the State of the Union Address in 1999. She co-chaired the Iraqi women's caucus in Congress, expanded the AMBER Alert program, battled the federal estate tax, and urged her party to soften its sometimes bellicose rhetoric. She was an early supporter of Gov. George W. Bush for president.She retired from Congress and joined the public policy section of a major law firm.
She married a Brit, Keith Thomson, who later said "She was an extraordinary, extraordinary human being and I was just privileged to know her. She was enormously emotionally involved in helping people, helping women particularly." She died in September, 2007, of a blood clot in her lung. She was 66. "Her love was pure. It was perfect and it was permanent," her son Bryant said.