Herb Bridge, 1925-2018

The UW's first Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award honoree was a success in business after his Navy tour.

Anyone who had the opportunity to meet Herb Bridge immediately felt his lively charm. For example, in 2012, when Bridge received the UW’s first Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award at the age of 86, he proudly showed off how he fit perfectly into his original Navy uniform. He also was quick to show off his boxing skills from his Navy days. That personal charisma, coupled with Bridge’s fierce love of his hometown, is one reason we enjoy a thriving downtown Seattle today.

Beginning in the 1950s, America fell in love with shopping malls—and that spelled doom for downtowns. Bridge knew that Seattle’s downtown core was in trouble unless the community took action. So he joined other civic leaders in forming the Seattle Central Association, which took on projects like Westlake Center to keep shoppers and residents coming downtown. That earned him the nickname “Mr. Downtown.”

Bridge and his brother, Bob, built the family business, Ben Bridge Jewelers, into a chain of 75 shops from Minnesota to Hawaii. The Ben Bridge name was virtually synonymous with downtown Seattle.

Before he began his illustrious business career, Bridge enjoyed a career in the U.S. Navy that spanned almost 50 years. He joined the Navy at 17 and saw action in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

After his World War II service, Bridge returned to Seattle to earn a liberal arts degree from the UW in 1947. Trim and wiry, he also took the intramural senior welterweight boxing title.

In addition to his Naval and business careers, Bridge dedicated himself to philanthropy as a matter of principle. Bridge and his son, Jon, ’72, ’76, co-chaired the 2000 United Way drive that raised more than $90 million. He championed housing for the poor, education, national parks, civic ventures and the Jewish community. A staunch Democrat, he toughed it out with Sen. Henry M. Jackson, ’35, on the presidential campaign trail in 1972 and 1976.

Bridge died in Seattle April 2 at age 93.