Tribute to Blaine Johnson

by Jim Catalinich, THS Board President

Posted: Jun 20, 2024

This past year, Tacoma Historical Society has lost three dynamic people who were instrumental in our growth. Dr. Jerry Ramsey, author and former board member, who established an endowment for THS, passed a year ago. Polly Medlock, Board Emeritus and one of the original founders of THS left us six months ago, and now Blaine Johnson, author, entrepreneur, and longtime THS supporter, passed just recently. Former Tacoma mayor described Blaine as a renaissance man.  

I first learned of Blaine as a young man through the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports page. His stories about the NBA and particularly the Seattle Super Sonics captivated me.  

In the summer of 2021, Bill Baarsma, Doug Andreassen, Blaine, and myself were planning the THS exhiit honoring the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Tacoma. I had never met Blaine until that meeting but was deeply impressed by his willingness to evaluate historical events from the perspective of others.

He reminded us that although the train’s arrival to Tacoma put our city on the map, its impacts were not welcome by all. He eloquently explained how the railroad impacted the Puyallup Tribe and caused the exploitation of Chinese workers. Because of Blaine we decided that the 150th anniversary should be a commemoration. Our exhibit and programs depicted the broad impact that the Northern Pacific had on all groups of people. 

Blaine was passionate about downtown Tacoma. He co-authored with Brian Kamens a book titled, Now Playing:Showtime in Tacoma, included essays by Murray Morgan, that was published by the THS Press. On page 5 is a picture of an usher outside a theater and the quote underneath the photo, “It’s now Showtime. Shall we go in?" What a creative introduction to a book about theaters! 

Blaine’s resume was extensive. A few highlights give us glimpse into this Tacoma renaissance man. Blaine described his pursuits as “working with words and working with wood.”  He wrote a book about the NBA, he was the Executive Director for the Washington State Horse Racing Commission, Director of Port Relations for the Port of Tacoma, and Assistant Managing Editor for the TNT.

Blaine’s pursuit of “wood" included building townhouses, restoration of the Savoy Theater and creation of Opera Alley. He collaborated with others to convert the old YMCA into the Vintage Y and the Roberson. Gary Petersen, a longtime friend and business partner, said Blaine was passionate about what was “old and ornate.” Gary described how he favored mid-century design, but Blaine wanted to preserve what was ornate. Blaine won the arguments.  

Gary talked about Blaine’s persistence about the creation of Opera Alley despite city resistance. Blaine’s vision prevailed. 

There is much more that Blaine did for the city, but his humility is noteworthy. The Now Playing acknowledgments include the contributions of 60 people who helped. His tribute to co-author Brian Kamens was moving, “I am most appreciative of the passion, patience and sincere commitment to accuracy that Brian has dedicated to our (emphasis added) ...” 

Our condolences to his wife of over 40 years, Catherine. Blaine made Tacoma his home because of Catherine. She was instrumental to him through her support of his work. “I thank my wife, Catherine, for graciously, supporting me with the time to work and for applying a keen 'reader’s eye' as materials were developed.” 

Gary said that Blaine was dedicated to civic responsibility. He was an advocate for community involvement. His community came first. Blaine was never about himself but more about building and creating for us. Rest in peace. 

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