Former councilmember and Deputy Mayor Rich Wagner dies

Many in the city will remember Richard Wagner as “The Popcorn Man” at community events and parades, dressed in an old-timey red-and-white striped shirt over pants held up by suspenders, pushing the red popcorn cart he had built and doling out free bags of popcorn.

Colleagues on the Auburn City Council, on which Wagner served 27 years, the longest span of any councilmember in the city’s 130-year history, recall him as financially conservative, a source of common sense ideas for improving city government, and the driving force behind the decades-long and finally successful effort to bring a community center to Auburn.

Wagner died on June 16.

Auburn mayor and former councilmember Nancy Backus remembered a few of the former deputy mayor’s special qualities.

“I feel privileged to have served with him and learned from him,” said Backus. “Rich had a passion for all things public works related and always provided that same level of interest and detail in his reviews and comments. As a new councilmember, I was able to learn much from Rich regarding the responsibility of being a public servant. May he rest in peace and accomplishment.”

Wagner was first elected to the council in 1990 and served until 2017.

In that time, Wagner established numerous relationships throughout the region, as he told the Auburn Reporter in 2016, which resulted in cooperative arrangements that cut government costs, improved services and provided significant funding from the federal and state governments.

Wagner was a member of a number of regional committees, among them the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board, the Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Advisory Committee, the Auburn Arts Commission, the Regional Access Mobility Partnership, the Puyallup River Watershed Forum and the Pierce County Regional Council. He also was an alternate member of the Valley Regional Fire Authority Board of Governance.

Wagner earned his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Washington State University and a master of science degree in engineering from Santa Clara University.

He was employed for 20 years as a development engineer in the computer industry with International Business Machines and the Tally Corporation before he joined the Weyerhaeuser Company, where he worked for 25 years in building products research.

Informally, Wagner was known as the council’s institutional memory, capable of astonishing his peers by recalling on the fly the precise wording of decades-old resolutions, ordinances and remarks made in long past meetings.

Before his retirement in 2017, Wagner said, he had been waiting to make it official based on whether his friend, present councilmember Larry Brown, was going to run for his seat, and the subsequent affirmative helped him reach his decision.

Wagner and his wife, Kay, lived in Auburn for more 35 years and raised their four children here.