Oke services planned for Sunday

Longtime senator and Port Orchard resident Bob Oke died Monday night after battling blood cancer for three years, his former public information officer Penny Drost said.

Oke, 66, served 16 years as a Republican senator for the 26th District of Washington, which includes South Kitsap County city of Port Orchard and part of Bremerton.

Drost said Oke’s wife Judy and their granddaughter Amy Derby were at his side when he died at about 9 p.m.

For weeks, Oke had warned friends that his health was declining while battling the blood cancer known as multiple myeloma, with which he was diagnosed in 2004 at age 63.

To fight the disease, which affects the body’s plasma cells and weakens the bones, Oke received chemotherapy and two adult stem-cell transplants.

The first transplant with his own cells in the spring of 2005 appeared successful, but the cancer returned, necessitating a second procedure in 2006 using cells harvested from Oke’s younger brother, Herb.

Through it all, Oke kept his sense of humor and seemed both confident he would beat the disease yet not afraid if he didn’t.

“Death does not worry me at all — I know I have another place waiting for me,” Oke said in 2005. “But I still have a lot of things to get done, and (Judy) wants to keep me around.”

After serving in the U.S. Navy for 26 years, Oke was elected to the Washington State Senate in Nov. 1990, and was re-elected for three more terms before opting not to run again in 2006.

Sen. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), was elected to Oke’s seat last November. Kilmer said although at their last meeting the former senator revealed his health was deteriorating, the news of his death still came as a shock.

“He had an incredible commitment to our community and our state, and I think (both) are better off because Bob Oke chose to serve them,” he said. “He was probably the most devout man I have ever met and he is in a better place.”

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel was also shaken by the news this week.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Angel said, explaining that while she spoke she was looking at a photo of her, Oke and his wife taken in front of the newly dedicated Bob Oke Community Center at Long Lake.

“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.”

Angel described him as a man of strong faith with a love of life “who always gave me personal strength.”

Bremerton Mayor Carey Bozeman said Oke will be remembered for working to make sure a second bridge over the Tacoma Narrows was built.

“His legacy will be the bridge, and he will be missed,” Bozeman said. “No one can contest the fact that Bob made a difference.”

In 2006, the Centralia pheasant-raising facility, which Sen. Oke is credited with securing the funding to make significant improvements, was renamed the Bob Oke Game Farm.

Oke was also honored earlier this year by Gov. Christine Gregoire at a ceremony proclaiming Feb. 21, 2007 as “Sen. Bob Oke Day.”

“Sen. Oke worked tirelessly to end the plague of youth access to deadly tobacco products, to win safe and dependable passage across the Narrows, to protect the family as the foundation of our society, and to preserve the natural beauty and bounty of our state,” Gregoire wrote in her proclamation.

After a celebration of Oke’s life at Christian Life Center tomorrow beginning at 2:30 p.m., Drost said Oke will be interred at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

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