Thomas Minor Pelly was a Seattle civic leader, author, and ten-term Congressman. He fought to protect Puget Sound fishing interests and was an advocate for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. He was born in Seattle to Elizabeth Montgomery Minor and Bernard Pelly, who was the British vice-consul and later consul to Seattle. He was named for Elizabeth’s father, Thomas T. Minor, who had been mayor of Seattle from 1887 to 1889. Bernard’s heritage gave dual British and American citizenship to young Thomas, who later renounced his British citizenship at the age of 21.
In 1921, he became a foot messenger for Seattle National Bank where, by the late 1920’s, he worked his way up to the position of trust officer. In 1927, Pelly married Washington, D.C. native Mary Virginia Taylor, whom he met while she was visiting her uncle on Bainbridge Island. Pelly resigned from the bank in 1930 and began working at Lowman and Hanford Stationary Company, where he was named president of the company just five years later. Meanwhile, by 1933, Pelly had written and published three books, the latest of which was about his previously mentioned grandfather and namesake.
During World War II, Pelly worked on the Seattle USO Council, which sponsored a servicemen’s canteen at 1011 Second Avenue. In 1949, he was elected president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, where he worked to purchase Seattle’s ferryboat system and was considered “an ambassador of all things Seattle.” In summing up Pelly’s work on the Chamber, a Times reporter wrote, “(Seattle) is finding out how valuable a man a chamber president can be when he actually works at the job.” When Pelly was named First Citizen of the Year on January 24, 1951, more than 500 people attended the ceremony. The following year, he was elected to his first of ten terms as 1st District congressional representative to Congress, where he worked to improve merchant marine working conditions and to ban foreign fish imports which were devastating American markets. He also fought to keep U.S. ships from being built abroad and helped Seattle to become an important gateway for airline routes.
He won his eighth term with an astounding 80 percent of the vote in 1966, when Republicans in the “other Washington” hoped Pelly would also be chosen as Richard Nixon’s running mate in the Presidential election. That year Pelly asked for inflationary adjustments to social security and became the first Republican candidate for Congress to win official endorsement from the King County Central Labor Council. In 1972, his last year in Congress, Pelly helped establish the North Cascades National Park. Thomas Pelly’s foresight and tireless efforts have most certainly left a lasting legacy for generations to come.