For the past three and a half decades, Joe Duffie has been a familiar face on the Tukwila City Council.
But, after 36 years, Duffie, 73, decided it was time to move on and chose not to seek another four-year term. His term ends Dec. 31.
“I feel we need ideas,” he said. “We need new people. The younger people need to have the opportunity to give their ideas. I think it is nice you can run as long you want to, but as long as you feel you are contributing. … There comes a time where everyone needs to step down and step to the side and bring up new people.”
Originally from Hope, Arkansas, Duffie moved to Seattle, where his aunt was living, after he graduated from high school. Shortly after moving, he got drafted and shipped off to the Army.
After his military service, he joined the Army Reserve and returned to Seattle. Duffie got a job at the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company, where he worked for 22 years.
During that time, Duffie and his family moved to Tukwila.
“We built a house where I live at now,” he said.
He took an active role in the community through Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, baseball and soccer.
“We just got involved here in the city, and I have loved it,” he said. “If I had to do all over again, I would do it.”
When an apartment complex was built near his neighborhood, Duffie started interacting with City Hall.
“The citizens in our neighborhood started to complain,” he said. “They asked me if I would come down here and speak for them. So, I came down here and asked the city why were they putting an apartment in our neighborhood, but they didn’t ask us. The council said they were the council and they could do what they want. I said, ‘Well, it won’t be that way.’ If I pay a penny tax, then I want a penny worth of representation.”
Duffie ran against the council president and won.
For Duffie, being on the council is about serving the people who elect you.
“We have to understand that, first of all, you volunteer to run for City Council,” Duffie said. “These people have the opportunity to vote for you. … They voted for you because they feel you are the person that will represent them. They are not representing you; you are representing them.”
Derek Speck, the city’s economic development administrator, said Duffie has been dedicated to that principle.
“Time and time again you were voting and doing what you thought was right, based on what the people wanted, not based on what you wanted,” Speck told Duffie during a reception in his honor on Dec. 11. “You stand out of the crowd with that.”
One of Duffie’s mottos he often referenced during his time on the council is “Together we stand, and divided we fall.”
“That shows you the people are together,” he said. “Here in Tukwila we work together, and that’s the way it is. (Residents) feel the city honors them. We want to hear from the people.”
That motto has been particularly important as the demographics of the city have changed. When Duffie first moved to the city in the 1960s, his family was one of only four black families in Tukwila.
Now, Tukwila boasts a diverse population, with a high number of refugees and immigrants.
“I am very proud that I have seen the city turn over like it has,” he said. “We are not there yet, but we are going to get there because we have more to do.”
During his City Council career, Duffie said he is proud of the development and improvements the council has brought to the city, including along Tukwila International Boulevard, or Highway 99.
“I have always wanted to see 99 change, and it has,” Duffie said. “You can see the progress we are making up there. … Tukwila has really grown, and I am proud that I was able to be on the council when all of these developments happened.”
Duffie has also been dedicated to serving youth in the community. He worked for 23 years as head custodian at Tukwila Elementary School. While working there, he started a running program. He still goes to the school each Wednesday and runs with the students during their lunch period. Duffie also has a similar program at Campbell Hill Elementary in the Renton School District, where one of his friends worked.
After his time on the council, Duffie wants to bring the city and schools together to provide apprenticeship programs and trades courses in classrooms.
“We need to give kids an opportunity to look at other things beside technology,” he said.
Mayor Allan Ekberg presented Duffie a key to the city at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting.
Ekberg said commitment is a word that comes to mind when thinking about Duffie.
“Commitment to community. Commitment to service. Commitment to our veterans. Commitment to our school district. Commitment to our citizens, our residents, all those who come before you,” he said.
Earlier this year, the City Council voted to name the northeastern ball field at Joseph Foster Memorial Park as Joe Henry Duffie Field.
At the Dec. 11 meeting, Duffie’s fellow council members took turns sharing their memories of him.
Councilwoman Verna Seal said Duffie has left his mark on the city.
“When I think of Tukwila, I don’t think of Southcenter, I honestly don’t,” she said. “I don’t think of the mall. I don’t think of shopping. I think of Joe Duffie. That is what I think of when I think of Tukwila, because you did coin that phrase, ‘If you can’t find it in Tukwila, you don’t need it.’ ”
Seal said she values Duffie’s friendship.
“I hope every year I will still get that call on Christmas Day, wishing me a Merry Christmas, because you haven’t missed a day in 12 years,” she said.
Karen Wright, who worked for the city in the 1990s, recalled Duffie’s willingness to help her when she got sick and had to retire in 2001.
“When Joe found out I was ill, he came to my house and said, ‘What do you need? How can I help?’ ” Wright said during the reception for Duffie prior to the council meeting. “For all the years, he has mowed my lawn. He has trimmed my hedges, my bushes. He has fixed lights that don’t work. When I fell and was too weak to get up by myself, Joe came over in the middle of the night to help. That’s the kind of guy Joe is.”
Duffie and Jacquelyn, his wife of 53 years, have four children, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.