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Commons Man 

King Cole helped Spokane with a grin and a hope for collective success.

click to enlarge Ted S. McGregor Jr.
  • Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Don't underestimate the power of the grin. King Cole’s trademark smile — one of the Expo era’s most memorable features, as local columnist Dorothy Powers called it — probably had more to do with getting a World’s Fair for Spokane than anything else. Many, many people deserve credit for Expo ’74, but one guy did all the tapping on the shoulders and, time after time, sealed the deal with that grin.

“The reason for the World’s Fair,” Cole told me in 1999, “was not to have a party, was not to become important, it was not to create a park. It was to save the downtown.”

And saving downtown was all about making Spokane’s beating heart healthy again — creating a place where people could come together for commerce, entertainment and nutty things like the world’s largest basketball tournament. Beyond being the Father of Expo, Cole was a sharp urban planner with a law degree and the ability to throw down some Latin when the moment was right.

One such time happened in 2006 when he called me to say, Sic uter tuo ut alienum non laedas. OK, wait… Sic uter what?

Turns out he was agitated by the comments of some local planner who was quoted in our paper saying this is a strong property-rights state, and people should be able to do anything they want with their property.

Hold the bulldozers, Cole told me. According to the principles of English Common Law, you have to respect your neighbor’s rights, too. Cole’s philosophy of cherishing and nourishing the idea of the commons — the world we all share — was under attack. Sic uter tuo ut alienum non laedas means, “So that you don’t disturb others.”

And he took that idea even farther in his life’s work. I don’t know the Latin, but it would translate to something like, “So that you make the world better for others.”

In a society in which individual desires seem to be trumping collective needs in case after case, it’s always refreshing to hear a plea to do things for the common good.

Most people say Expo couldn’t happen today, and that may be due to our me-first attitude. Cole’s community-first ethic is his lasting legacy — a model we can honor in Spokane for generations to come.

As for the grin … well, nobody will ever replace that.

Pick up next week’s Inlander to read EWU Professor Bill Youngs’ thoughts on King Cole’s life. Cole gave Youngs his personal papers to use as the foundation for his book The Fair and the Falls. Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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