Ralph Davies Munro
Washington State’s 13th Secretary of State –
One of Washington’s best known and loved politicians and humanitarians
Ralph Davies Munro was born on June 25th, 1943 in Seattle, Washington, the third child of George Alexander Munro and Betty (Troll) Munro. His father was an electrician at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard and his mother a first grade and kindergarten teacher His Munro grandparents were Scottish immigrants who settled on Bainbridge Island in 1890, and Ralph was raised at the center of a close-knit extended family and community He graduated from Bainbridge High School in 1961 and earned a B.A. in Education and Political Science from Western Washington University in 1966.
While in school, Ralph held numerous part time jobs including mowing lawns for neighbors, selling newspapers at the Point White ferry dock, wheel boy on the Virginia V steamship, salmon barbeque cook for Sunset Lodge at Fort Ward, chef at the Teepee Salmon Barbeque at the Seattle World’s Fair, caretaker of Lakewood Properties on Lake Whatcom, bartender in numerous Bellingham taverns, and more. After graduating from Western Washington University, he went to work at the Boeing Company’s Renton Plant where he was trained as an industrial engineer. He worked for Boeing off and on for several years. At about the same time he became very involved as a volunteer with developmentally disabled children. Working mostly at Fircrest School in North Seattle, he became a daily volunteer with two young boys at the institution, and remained a guiding force in their lives for many years.
Ralph’s first job in the political world was as a supply clerk in the basement of the Legislative Building in Olympia. A short time later Governor Dan Evans recruited him to serve as the state’s first volunteer coordinator and then as a special assistant on education and social-service issues. From there Ralph built a long and distinguished record of public service in Washington State and across the globe.
From 1980 through 2001 he served as Washington’s Secretary of State, a position to which he was elected five times. During his tenure, he was instrumental in improving voter registration participation, streamlining the corporate registration process, promoting economic development and serving as the state’s goodwill ambassador to the world. On numerous occasions Ralph travelled to Japan, Korea, China, Britain, Spain, Canada, the Russian Far East and many other countries and regions to foster partnerships with Washington businesses.
However, Ralph’s finest accomplishments are examples of his boundless compassion and deep commitment to improving the lives of others; and they seem to effervesce from boundless energy and generosity – laced with humor, warmth and love. He’s fond of saying “We’ve been blessed.” And to those watching the enigma that is Ralph Munro, it appears that his mission in life is to share those blessings with as many people as possible. To quote former Washington State Governor Dan Evans: “Ralph was the one who taught me how to care.”
Some of his accomplishments include:
- Fighting for measures to improve life for the state’s disabled residents, including an “education for all” bill in the mid-1970s that paved the way for disabled students to attend public classrooms long before federal legislation did the same.
- Coordinating the state’s efforts to eliminate architectural barriers for people in wheelchairs. Spearheading legislation requiring curb cuts, wider doors, wheelchair ramps, etc. as a statewide mandate.
- Preserving historic landmarks, such as the Walla Walla site of the state’s 1878 constitutional convention, the steamship Virginia V, and much more.
- Spearheading numerous wildlife-protection efforts. In 1976 he gained national attention when he led a drive to ban the capture of orca whales in Puget Sound. His efforts “lit the fuse” that ended commercial whale captures in United States waters.
- Protecting victims of domestic violence by establishing the first Address Confidentiality Program. Washington’s “Safe at Home” program allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other types of crime to receive mail through the Secretary of State’s office, while keeping their actual address undisclosed. Started in Washington state, similar programs are now available in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
- Honoring and assisting military and veterans’ groups.
- Tirelessly working with Rotary International to eradicate Polio around the world, including fourteen trips to Ethiopia and East Africa to vaccinate children, provide access to clean water, and build better schools.
- Initiating and facilitating an amazing archeological dig on Triple Creek Farm in partnership with the Squaxin Island Tribe and South Puget Sound Community College. Many of the artifacts uncovered are on display at the Squaxin Island Tribal Museum. Then in 2006, Ralph executed a perpetual conservation easement on 203 acres of Triple Creek Farm and its 3.5 miles of sinuous shoreline on Eld Inlet (Mud Bay).
- Working tirelessly for over 20 years to help the students of McLane Elementary plant over 16,000 trees and countless daffodils on the McLane School Forest Trail (now the Ralph Munro Trail). The result is an incredible, biodiverse, and expanding trail system that is used and appreciated by hundreds and hundreds of people.
- Facilitating the planting of thousands of very special Coastal Redwood Trees (genetically identical to Champion trees harvested over 100 years ago) in Western Washington in partnership with Archangel Ancient Tree Archives.
- Ralph continues to host the TVW series “My Favorite Places,” which explores the unique places, beauty and history of Washington.
Ralph was married to Karen Hanson Munro (now Karen Ellick) for many years and they raised their son, George, on Triple Creek Farm near Olympia. George now lives in Crofton, Maryland, with his wife Laura and their son John.
Ralph continues to serve on numerous national and international boards and commissions. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors of several local corporations, including the Squaxin Island Tribal Museum, Panorama Senior Living Retirement, and the Olympia Rotary Club He also remains active in election reform and international trade issues, continues to advocate for wildlife and environmental causes in the Puget Sound, and to champion causes that support people with disabilities. Most importantly, he continues to strive to make Washington State a better place for our children than it was for us
- Industrial Engineer. Boeing. 1966-1968.
- Volunteer Coordinator. Washington State. 1969. Governor Dan Evans appointed Munro as the first Volunteer Coordinator of Washington State.
- White House. 1970. Helped formulate the federal agency ACTION, the “Federal Domestic Volunteer Agency”.
- Special Assistant. Washington State. 1972-1976. Special Assistant on education and social-service issues, enlisted by Governor Dan Evans.
- Secretary of State. Republican, Washington. 1981 – 2001. 20 years.
- Western Washington University Board of Trustees. 10/01/2009 – 09/30/2015. Appointed by Governor Christine Gregoire.
- South Sound Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Thurston – Distinguished Leader of the Year Award(2022).
- Association of Washington Business C. David Gordon Award for Outstanding Civic Achievement (2008).
- Recipient of the Award of Civil Merit from King Juan Carlos of Spain – the highest award given to non-Spanish citizens. Presented in Madrid, Spain.
- The seventh American to be awarded the Medal of Friendship by the government of the Russian Federation. Presented by President Boris Yeltsin in front of a Joint Session of the Washington State Legislature hosted by Governor Gary Locke and Lt. Governor Joel Pritchard.
- Warren G. Magnuson Award for Outstanding Public Service.
- Salvation Army Citizen of the Year Award.
- United States Navy Meritorious Public Service Award.
- Rotary International Board of Directors Service Above Self Award (2006).
- Puget Sound Energy Pioneer Award (2008).
- Seattle Biomedical Research Institute Advancing Global Health Award (2006).
- Seattle World Affairs Council – World Citizen Award (1998).
- Margaret Chase Smith Award for American Democracy (Former Governor Dan Evans and Ralph Munro were both received this award for their work leading the nation in resettling refugees following the Vietnam War).
- Executive Leadership Award – the Washington State League of Women Voters.
- Advisory Board Member, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center.
- Co-Chairman, Washington State Centennial Committee, 1989.
- Co-Founder, Orca Conservancy, 1996.
- Past Director, Action for Retarded Children.
- Founder, Bald Eagle Preserve on Skagit River.
- Member – Advisory Committee on Volunteer Programs.
- Director/Trustee for numerous corporate and non-profit organizations, including Prepared Response, Thurston First Bank of Puget Sound, Panorama Retirement Center, Squaxin Island Tribal Museum and HistoryLink.
- Past President, Seattle Rotary Club #4, the world’s largest Rotary Club.
- President, National Association of Secretaries of State, 1990-1991.
- The Seattle Times, December 29, 2000:”Ralph Munro leaving a career carved in stone”
- Transcript of Western Washington University Libraries Special Collections; Oral History Program – Interview of Ralph Munro on September 15, 2003
- Washington’s Secretaries of State – Past and Present: Ralph Munro
- Oral History with Ralph Munro
- 1968 The Year That Rocked Washington; Ralph Munro – Disability Rights Pioneer
- The Legacy Project, Office of the Secretary of State: “History Makers Details on Ralph Munro”
- The Seattle Times, December 29, 2000: “Ralph Munro leaving a career carved in stone”;
- Governor’s news release, September 25, 2009: “Gov. Gregoire appoints Ralph Munro to WWU board of trustees”;
- Puget Sound Business Journal, May 9, 2008: “Mud Bay archeological site has profound lessons for Ralph and Karen Munro”
- Puget Sound Energy, press release June 3, 2008: “PSE recognizes Karen and Ralph Munro with 2008 Pioneer Award”
- “Sound Champion and Steward: Ralph Munro;” We Are Puget Sound; September 17, 2020; https://www.wearepugetsound.org/blog/sound-champion-and-steward-ralph-munro.
Ralph can be contacted at: RalphMunro@comcast.net