Herman Dillon Sr., a longtime Puyallup tribal council chairman, died today after a lengthy illness, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians announced this afternoon. He was 82.
“Our whole family is grieving the loss of the head of our family,” his daughter Sheila Beckett said. “We appreciate everyone’s condolences during this rough time. He was so important to all of us. He will be greatly missed.”
Chairman Dillon served on the Puyallup City Council for more than 35 years as the tribe developed into an “influential and financially successful urban Indian tribe,” the tribe said in a news release. He testified on Indian affairs in Washington, D.C., and had a passion for being Native American.
“Chairman Dillon spent his life serving the Puyallup Tribe with professionalism and dignity,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I had the opportunity to see how his strong leadership was shaped by his personal character and by the strong values and culture of the Puyallup Tribe.”
Chairman Dillon was especially proud of the development of the tribe’s economy, which, through its Emerald Queen Casino locations, administration, health authority and school, became the third-largest employer in Pierce County. The tribe’s economic success was “a long time coming” from when economic development meant a freeway billboard and a gas station, he said in 2008.
Chairman Dillon was born on June 15, 1931. He dropped out of Fife High School at 17 and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, just as World War II was coming to an end, according to the tribe. He spent four years in the reserves as a gunner and a radar worker. He was drafted into the Army to serve during the Korean War just as he was getting out of the reserves, and spent two years guarding POW camps in Pusan. At 50, he earned his GED.
“The bottom line is, this is our land,” he said in 1990. “We will do whatever it takes to help you people (white Americans) protect our land.”
He was elected to the Puyallup Tribal Council in 1971. He was a “tireless advocate for the social and economic betterment” of his tribe and tribes throughout the Northwest, Inslee said, and fought to retain treaty rights to fishing and hunting. He was a longtime family friend of Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually activist who fought for tribal fishing rights and who died May 5.
Outside of the tribe, Chairman Dillon was a foster parent and known for his commitment to helping youth. He took many children into his home as a foster parent with his wife of 43 years, Darlene Dillon.
He was “loved dearly by the tribal membership that first elected him to the Puyallup Tribal Council in 1971,” the tribe wrote.
“He had, over the years, become the epitome of the word ‘chairman,’ and an extremely natural and gifted Master of Ceremony,” tribal council member Marguerite Edwards said. “He was a kind and loving man. In my mind I can see his cowboy boots and Pendleton coat on him as he sits in his chairman’s seat at the council table, and I know I will never forget him.”
Chairman Dillon is survived by his wife, Darlene Dillon; his younger sister Arlene Jackson; children Robert Dillon, Herman Dillon Jr., Steven Dillon Sr., Jenny Lee Roy, James Dillon, Diana Siddle, Michelle Dillon, Sheila Beckett, Julian Dillon, Justin Dillon, Alisha Beckett and Stefanie Dillon; the many foster children he was father to; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.
A public viewing will be held on May 31, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at Hill Funeral Home, 217 E. Pioneer Ave., Puyallup. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on June 1 at the Tacoma Dome. The public is welcome to attend. A graveside service will be at 1 p.m., with a dinner to follow at the Emerald Queen Casino Interstate 5 showroom in Tacoma.