Former Republican State Senator Bob Oke of Port Orchard has passed away after a courageous and very public battle against a rare form of blood cancer. He died Monday night, losing his three-year fight against multiple myeloma, a cancer that weakens the bones by targeting plasma cells.
Oke, 66, served four, 4-year terms in the Senate. An unabashed conservative, he was well liked and highly respected by lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle before the disease forced his retirement in January.
A 26-year Navy veteran, Oke was an avid outdoorsman who was recognized as a leader in the areas of natural resources and fisheries, and perhaps best known for his relentless efforts to combat youth smoking, as well as his unwavering support for a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge. At one point after his battle with cancer became public, Oke climbed one of the tower walkways to the top of the new bridge.
Oke had been very open about his struggles with the disease, and underwent two stem-cell transplants as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Those treatments helped him hold the disease in check for part of his final four-year term. Although he was absent for part of the 2005 session and sometimes used a wheelchair or cane to get around the capitol, he always kept his fellow legislators abreast of his illness and the progress of his various treatments.
“I have a picture of Bob and Judy on my desk, from the dedication ceremony of the Bob Oke Community Center at Long Lake. As I look at this, I can’t believe he’s gone,” said an emotional Commissioner Jan Angel. “He has truly been my mentor — a man of the highest integrity, devoted to the public’s service. He fought for his beliefs and always sported a smile and a positive attitude even through the toughest times. His strong faith and love of life have always given me personal strength.”
Oke, who was highly religious, received tributes in both 2005 and 2006 from his Senate colleagues, saying at one of the events, "A lot of prayer is needed, and I appreciate your support. You've always been there for me."
“I think our community and our state are better places because Bob Oke chose to serve,” said Senator Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), the man who was elected to his seat when Oke retired. “He was the most devoted husband and devout man I’ve ever met. I’m convinced he’s in a better place.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.