December 2, 2019

Remembering Great Statesman, Public Servant Bill Ruckelshaus

It is with profound sadness that the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance announces the passing of great statesman, true public servant, and William D. Ruckelshaus Center founder and Chair Emeritus, Bill Ruckelshaus. Throughout his legendary career, Bill held the positions of Assistant Attorney General, Acting Director of the FBI, first and fifth EPA Administrator, and as a leader in the private sector.

Bill found that Washington is a state rich in natural resources and a vibrant private sector, beset by solvable problems and no means outside of local or state government to help solve them. He believed that the faculty, staff and students, at Washington State University and the University of Washington were an extraordinary resource of intellectual expertise to help in resolution under the right conditions. In 2004, Bill created the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a partnership between Washington’s two premier research institutions, Washington State University and the University of Washington.

With Bill’s leadership, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center been at work for 15 years bringing the expertise of Washington’s premier research institutions to help community members, business leaders, and government decision makers collaboratively tackle complex, and often, controversial policy challenges.

Bill’s public service career began in 1960 when he became Indiana’s Deputy Attorney General where he served as counsel to the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board and helped draft the Indiana Air Pollution Control Act. By 1967, Bill had won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, serving as Majority Leader in his first term. In 1969, President Nixon appointed Bill as Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a post he held until becoming the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1973, during a major reshuffling of the Nixon Administration, Bill was designated Acting Director of the FBI, and later that year, became Deputy Attorney General. During an event known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” Bill and his supervisor, Elliot Richardson, resigned their positions within the DOJ rather than obey President Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. In 1983, President Reagan appointed Bill for a second term EPA Administrator where he served until 1985.

From 1997 to 2012, Presidents and Governors appointed Bill to lead or serve on the Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations, Salmon Recovery Funding Board Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, Commission on Ocean Policy, Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council, and Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. He is also a founding partner of Madrona Venture Group. In 2015, President Obama awarded Bill the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Throughout his career, Bill said nothing provided him more satisfaction than public service. He championed the belief that we can best address complex challenges that face our society through collaborative process. Bill advanced this by serving as Board Chair of the Meridian Institute and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute. Since 2004, he served as Founder and Board Chair of The William D. Ruckelshaus Center. For more information on Bill and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, go to