Forbes Bottomly
1921 - 2020
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Forbes Bottomly

April 20, 1921 ~ May 8, 2020

Forbes Bottomly died at the age of 99 on May 8, 2020 in Seattle, WA.

He was born in Kansas City, Missouri to Raymond Victor Bottomly and Mouriel (Heath) Bottomly. A graduate of the University of Montana (Phi Beta Kappa), he earned a doctorate in Educational Management and Sociology at Washington State University.

Forbes Bottomly is best known for his eight-year term in Washington state as Superintendent of Schools for Seattle, where he fully exercised his educational philosophy of planned excellence for every student equally, in every part of the school district. Seattle was also where he regularly needed to demonstrate his considerable political and diplomatic skills, navigating the tumultuous social upheaval of the late 60s to early 70s, while planning and beginning implementation of Seattle's ultimate ground-breaking voluntary school desegregation.

After Seattle, he was the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Planning Project, helping to design a cooperative education plan for the Boston Metropolitan Area, one intended to maximize performance and efficiency while reducing minority isolation.

He began his educational career as a teacher in Montana's Blackfoot Indian reservation in 1950, following four years of service as a Naval officer during World War II. He moved into educational administration, but maintained throughout his life that his primary identity was that of a teacher, whatever his job title.

During his time as a Navy pilot, he acquired a love of sailing while learning to fly seaplanes, and sailed extensively throughout his life. After leaving his last full-time position in 1977, he decided to build his own boat from scratch, learning as he went. Named the Tuatara, in homage to the ancient Polynesian navigators he so admired, his final product was a 38' ketch with an 8' bowsprit and a 50' main mast. His efforts were successful, and the sleek Tuatara has sailed extensively throughout the Pacific.

Despite his influential career in education, Forbes Bottomly said he wanted his epitaph to read: "He was a master boatwright." He was indeed that, but most agree that his epitaph should be instead, "He was a visionary leader whose efforts greatly improved the educational opportunities and experiences of thousands of children."

Forbes Bottomly was a gentle man who always insisted on sharing the credit for any accomplishment. A board member once described him as "always affable to everyone, almost shy, but with strong principles and a spine of steel - no matter the issue, he was always willing talk to anyone, anytime, whether supporter or opponent." He cared deeply about inequities in the world, and spent his life devoted to narrowing them.

Forbes Bottomly was preceded in death by his first wife, Helen Bottomly, and his second wife, Jerri Bottomly. He is survived by his sister Elizabeth Withington, son William Bottomly (daughter-in-law, Colleen), daughter, Kim Bottomly (son-in-law, Wayne Villemez), three grandchildren, Daniel Bottomly, Hannah Janeway, Megan Janeway and three great grandchildren.

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Published in The Seattle Times on May 17, 2020.
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10 entries
May 29, 2020
I interviewed Dr. Bottomly in 1983 for my doctoral dissertation at Stanford in the Graduate School of Education. I was 32 and only 3 years removed from being an alternative school teacher in Seattle Schools. I was conducting a case study on the changing nature of the superintendency, of school boards, and the contentious politics that pervaded policy issues such as desegregation and school closure. Before I met with him, I spent hour learning about him through the archives at UW and Seattle Schools. His ideas about education and schools were not just progressive but truly visionary, which is so rare in public education. Beyond his ideas and his initiatives as Seattle's greatest superintendent, the generosity and thoughtfulness he shared with me that afternoon left an indelible mark. He inspired me to become a superintendent--a leader--and to approach this impossible job without fear and with the courage to hold tight to vision and a moral compass. Like other understated leaders of his caliber, few may remember his name. But many will have profited not just from the battles and crusades he won or lost, but simply from who he was in the public arena: a standard-bearer for social justice and a champion for what is possible in developing the minds and hearts of young people.. I will always think of Forbes Bottomly with deep and lasting gratitude.
May 25, 2020
Dear Kim,
I am very sorry to read about your father's death. He was a lovely man, as was your entire family.

Flora Nelson
Flora Lovejoy
May 20, 2020
Forbes Bottomly was the most outstanding public education leader whose belief in equality, justice, and opportunity was foremost in his days with the Seattle Schools. During very difficult times he was always calm and just. He listened, he discussed, he was a leader who will be missed by many.
Suzanne Hittman
May 17, 2020
When I was living in the East coast, i was amazed to learn that Seattle was trying to desegregate its public schools voluntarily and not because of a court order. The man behind it was Forbes Bottomly. Later, when I got to know him at the Seattle First Baptist Church, he shared with me how much opposition there was, but he held firm. The present pandemic has exposed terrible injustices in our health care system. We can learn a lot from Forbes, "He cared deeply about inequities in the world and spent his life devoted to narrowing them.
Richard Johnson
May 17, 2020
Forbes Bottomly served as Superintendent for eight years from 1965 to 1973. He was a man for the moment in time of "the sixties" Forbes was a firm believer in equal rights for all, a person who listened to parents, citizens and interest groups equally and fairly. This was a time when urban school superintendents seldom held their positions for more than three years yet he served for eight. As a school principal and central office administrator during his tenure I knew first hand his rock solid commitment to education for all.
Paul Hoerlein
May 17, 2020
On his boat, the Turatara
Foresight, Objective, Respectful, Bold, Embracing, Self-content

These are only a few words that describe Forbes. He and Jerri were very influential in helping raise my sons. I will miss his quiet and philosophical demeanor.
Worcester Bong
May 17, 2020
Forbes and Jerri visiting Spokane, WA in 2009
Worcester Bong
May 17, 2020
Forbes and Jerri visiting Waimea Canyon on Kaua'i in 2002
Worcester Bong
May 17, 2020
Forbes and Jerri visiting Hawai'i
Worcester Bong
May 17, 2020
Forbes and Jerri
Worcester Bong
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