Watch out for the curve ball.

- Booth Gardner

“Booth Who?” is the biography of Booth Gardner, Washington’s charismatic 19th governor. The author is John C. Hughes, chief oral historian for The Legacy Project, who first met Gardner in 1971 when he was a young reporter covering the Legislature.

The biography sprang from a year’s worth of oral history interviews with Gardner and many who know him best, including former staff members, childhood friends, relatives, political allies and adversaries. Gov. Chris Gregoire and four other former Gardner aides – Denny Heck, Dean Foster, Laird Harris and Rosalie Gittings – have feature roles in a compelling portrait of a complex man whose life has been punctuated by tragedy and triumph. The book features dozens of remarkable photographs. A printed version is planned by summer.

“It’s been 17 years since he was Washington’s governor,” Hughes writes, “but everyone still knows his name. In 1983, however, when he decided to challenge a sitting governor, he was little known outside Pierce County where he grew up. His brain-trust put ‘Booth Who?’ on a button and it became the catchiest campaign slogan in state history.”

The Booth Gardner story has deep roots. Digging into the State Library’s trove of genealogical records and unpublished manuscripts, Hughes discovered that Gardner is the descendant of Oregon Trail pioneers. A sixth-generation Northwesterner, Gardner has illustrious ancestors who came to what was then the Oregon Country a half century before Washington statehood in 1889. His great-grandfather was elected King County auditor in 1874, and his grandfather helped save the King County Courthouse in the great Seattle fire of 1889. Booth’s great-uncle was once part-owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“Growing up, Booth had heard the stories about his grandfather’s derring-do,” Hughes says, “but he wasn’t sure how much was fact and how much was fiction. He was stunned to learn that the truth was more wonderful than he’d ever imagined and pleased that his grandchildren stand to learn so much about the history of their state. That’s really what The Legacy Project is all about – capturing history and making it come alive.”