Jan. 22, 1919 - Nov. 26, 2010
Jeannette C. Hayner was born in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 22, 1919, the only child of Swiss and German immigrant parents with the surname of "Hafner." Her hard-working parents were deeply committed to Jeannette receiving the best education possible. She received her B.A. from the University of Oregon and went on to graduate from the University of Oregon Law School as one of only two women in her class in 1942.
Because of the alphabetic arrangement, Jeannette was seated next to Herman "Dutch" Hahner in law school. (The family changed the spelling of their surname of "Hayner" in the early '70s so Jeannette changed one letter of her last name twice!). After Jeannette graduated and Dutch was anticipating joining the European front as a tank commander in World War II, they were married at Camp Chaffee, Ark., in October 1942. They were devoted to each other for 68 years until Dutch died just this past February.
Jeannette served with the Bonneville Power Administration during the war. The couple moved to Walla Walla in 1947, and from the very beginning of their lives in Walla Walla, they both engaged in civic and church responsibilities with energy and joy.
Unlike her husband, Jeannette never practiced law in Walla Walla but decided instead to dedicate herself to raising the couple's three children and participating in a variety of civic projects. She served on the Walla Walla School Board from 1956-1963, and was chairman for two of those years. These were years of great controversy as the community faced the decision as whether to build a new campus-style high school, which finally opened in 1964. Jeannette supported the move with tenacity and political skill - two qualities that became even more important later on. During the latter part of the 1960s, Jeannette served as chair of the county Mental Health Board, co-director of the Meals on Wheels program, member of the Washington Council on Crime and Delinquency and on the board of the YWCA, along with many other community and church organizations.
Jeannette and Dutch were longtime members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church and later First Presbyterian Church in Walla Walla. In her later years, Jeannette served as an elder at First Presbyterian. Jeannette was fervently committed to her faith and to service in and through her church.
In 1972, with her children grown, Jeannette decided to run for an open seat in the state Legislature. At the time, there were only seven other women in the House and none in the state Senate. After four years, Republican Party officials asked Hayner to run for the Senate. She was elected and by 1979 was the Senate Republican leader. She remained in that position in the Senate until her retirement in 1992 at age 73. In 1981, control of the Senate shifted to the Republicans for the first time in 26 years and Hayner suddenly found herself as the Senate majority leader. For more than a decade, she led a slim political majority with consistency, perseverance, decisiveness and relational savvy. With her distinctive strong opinions, optimistic attitude, problem-solving style, integrity and sly humor, she worked effectively with the entire political system and gained the reputation as "the iron lady of Washington."
Jeannette was appointed to the Board of Directors of Standard Insurance Co., and served as one of the first women appointed to a board by a major company in the Pacific Northwest. She was comfortable in the formerly men's world of board rooms and politics. Because of her upbringing, it simply never occurred to her that she couldn't do whatever she felt called to do.
But Jeannette's children and grandchildren will always remember her as deeply committed to the family. The "iron lady" was just as fiercely supportive of her family as she was to the many commitments that could have torn her away and she was always quick to tears of joy and stories of pride about each one.
Neither Jeannette nor Dutch really believed in retirement. Both worked tirelessly in their professional and volunteer capacities in the community. Until the very last years of her life, Jeannette outpaced almost everyone in her enthusiastic and energetic approach to life and service. She was the recipient of numerous civic awards including the Award of Merit from the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce, the Slade Gorton Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington State Republican Party, the C. David Gordon Award from the Association of Washington Business, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Independent College and University Presidents, the Pioneer Award from the University of Oregon and an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Whitman College. In 2005, she was honored as the first chair of the TVW Board of Directors and their headquarters building in Olympia was renamed the Jeannette C. Hayner Media Center.
Jeannette died peaceably from the aftermaths of a stroke on Nov. 26, 2010. She is survived by her three children and their spouses, Steve and Sharol Hayner of Decatur, Ga., Jim and Pam Hayner of Walla Walla and Judy Hayner of Los Altos, Calif.; her seven grandchildren, Emilie, Chip, Drew, Adam, Scott, Eric and Kevin; and two great-grandchildren, Claire and Anna.
Friends are invited to attend the memorial funeral service for Jeannette on Friday at 1 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow. Private family burial. Memorial contributions may be made to the First Presbyterian Church or charity of the donor's choice through the Herring Groseclose Funeral Home, 315 W. Alder St., Walla Walla, WA 99362.