Lewiston – Talk to the people who know Larry Cassidy and you’ll find prizes as thick as salmon and the famous steelhead on the Columbia River in the days before hydroelectric dams changed the system forever.
Influential, tenacious, intelligent, tireless, dedicated, genuine and kind – just to name a few.
Cassidy, of Vancouver, Washington, has spent his life working to restore fish life and ensuring that fish and other wildlife remain a vital part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem and human culture. The 83-year-old passed away on January 19 after an ongoing 25-year battle with prostate cancer.
He was well-connected with politics and fond of, say, having worked with every Washington governor since Dan Evans. This included two terms on the Washington Game Commission and a decade on the Northwest Energy and Conservation Council. He has also served on the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Pacific Salmon Commission, and North Pacific Fisheries International. He was the former president of the Northwest Steelheaders and vice president of Trout Unlimited.
In his professional life, he was the president and owner of Flo-Rite Products Co., Ltd. International distributor of plumbing and hardware products.
“Everyone loved Larry. He knew everyone,” said John Harrison, a former spokesperson for the Council on Energy and Conservation. “He had relationships like no one I’ve ever known.”
This included such high-profile politicians as former U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and former Congressman Don Bonker of Southwest Washington.
During the Carter administration, while the legislation that would become the Northwest Energy Act was being debated, Bonker asked Cassidy to give Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, a tour of the district.
“I didn’t know him from Adam,” Cassidy said during a 2019 interview with the Tribune. “Dingell gets off the plane, and you know some people I just hit it off with. We had a lot in common.”
They fished together on the Toutle River, where Dingell’s refusal to accept unearned fishing experience cemented Cassidy’s penchant for the political.
“I stuck a steelhead up and said, ‘Congressman, do you want to play my fish?'” And he said, “Hell no, I don’t play somebody else’s fish,” and that has totally sold me since that day.
Later, Dingle asked Cassidy about the pending legislation and what he thought should be included.
“I said, ‘Well, congressman, if somebody doesn’t make fish and wildlife equal to energy generation, we’re going to lose fish;’ There is no question about that. We need to focus more and do more in terms of providing salmon and steelhead. “
Dingell took the advice to heart. When it was passed and finally became law, the Energy Act put fish and power generation on an equal footing. It also created the Authority and Conservation Council which Cassidy later led as president.
“I think Larry was a pioneer and a visionary,” said Jay Norman, who represents Washington on the council and retired after 33 years with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “He just had the connections and the tenacity to get things done.”
In addition to knowing people, Cassidy had a knack for bringing those with different points of view together. While he was closely associated with the Washington Democrats, he was not a partisan.
“He had an unparalleled passion for the job and the leadership skills to bring people with him,” said Tom Carrier, who served with Cassidy on the board. “He wasn’t interested in your political party, only in what you can do to help the fish and wildlife of the Northwest.”
Todd Maddock, a native of Spokane and formerly of Lewiston, also served on the board with Cassidy. The work was difficult and disagreements were common.
“Larry was always the one who could bring us together,” he said. “I really appreciated that side of his nature.”
Allen Thomas, a retired reporter and editor for the Vancouver Columbian, has known and admired Cassidy for 40 years and called him “a giant of fisheries management in the Northwest.”
During his time on the game committee, Thomas said, Cassidy had a knack for seeing the big picture. While some commissioners were concerned about the number of elk permits for a given hunting unit, Cassidy was looking at the blanket policy.
“He really got the idea that politics and budgets and all that high level stuff mattered when so many guys were fighting over little things,” said Thomas.
He loved to hunt for steelhead, deer and mule hunting on his farm over the Grande Ronde in Asotin County. In 2019, he noticed that the Department of Fish and Game, while improving the camping area and boat ramp at Grande Ronde, had inadvertently built a bathhouse on his property. Rather than pick a fight with the agency, he and his wife, Marilou, donated a 5-acre plot of land to the state.
“He was just a good guy,” said Jay Holzmiller, of Asotin, a former member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Committee and conservative Republican. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. I wouldn’t have ended up on the game committee if it wasn’t for her.”
Harrison and Cassidy have spoken a lot in recent years, often about prostate cancer, a disease they share. Cassidy fought for years, but he accepted that he couldn’t win forever.
“He knew it was coming,” he said, “but he was very pragmatic about everything.”
Despite his illness, Cassidy was willing to take on new projects. His latest effort was to try to reclaim Lake Vancouver from the devastating invasion of the Eurasian Fluff.
“He was always looking for a cause and every time he got involved in a case, he worked towards it,” said Harrison. “What a man.”