The old guard is leaving downtown Renton. While some places like Garland Jewelers created an obvious empty storefront, other businesses have had a quieter departure, including a family legacy company that shut its doors over the summer.
Wyman Dobson, a lawyer in downtown Renton and part of a family that are regarded as Renton pioneers, retired this summer and sold the building he, his father and other lawyers worked in for over 50 years. At 229 Williams Ave. S, the office building that housed one of the first Renton law firms now sits under construction.
In the summer 2020, a Renton business, Metrix Engineers, will be taking over the space. Principal Mechanical Engineer Scott Miller said they are looking forward to moving from the Black River office park to downtown Renton. He also said all his interactions with Dobson during the sale were a “delight.”
“In hearing about their time in the building and learning about the history, hearing the stories told by Wyman was fun,” Miller said.
For 59 years and 1o months, Dobson would walk three blocks to work (although he did eventually get a parking spot in the alleyway). He was the only one that showed up in bad weather, he said.
The house he walked from on First Avenue North was built by his father in 1936, and Dobson has lived there all his life. On the same block is much of his family. His three children and three grandchildren all live in Renton.
Dobson followed his father’s footsteps in many ways. He attended the University of Washington and became president of the same fraternity his father was in. After serving 16 months in Korea in the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, he attended law school under his father’s advice. He had also spent time in high school working at his father’s law office.
Civic participation was also an unspoken expectation as Dobson grew up. Today, he said it seems to him that young people have so much to do and available to them that they are less interested in clubs and volunteering.
He was active in Lions Club, getting 66 members to join and well-known as one of the founders of the sister cities alliance with Nishiwaki, Japan. He also served on the board for Maplewood Golf Course, which his father owned, and helped create the deal that gave the golf course to the city of Renton. Without that deal, large chunks of the property were going to be taken by the state and county to build roads.
Renton History Museum Director Liz Stewart had some museum information on the Dobson family as well — his great-grandfather, John Dobson was the first in the family to settle in the Renton area, before it was a town. His grandfather, Thomas Sutherland Dobson Sr., was briefly mayor, a city councilmember, state legislator and King County Commissioner. His father John W. Dobson, outside of the law office, was also a city attorney for Renton, Tukwila and Issaquah.
Wyman Dobson started as a general practice attorney. Back when he began, families had one attorney they went to for all legal matters. Over the years his focus became narrower until his primary focus went to estate and will planning. The law firm also became smaller as partners passed, from “Dobson, Houser, Davidson and Dobson,” to “Dobson and Davidson” as separate firms.
The building was purchased by an entity related to Metrix Engineers. Miller said that the company intended to rename the building the “Dobson building,” but it turned out another building in Renton city limits already has the Dobson name. So Miller said they are still thinking about possible ways they can recognize the Dobson family.
“It’s a comforting feeling, leaving the building with someone you know is going to invest in the community, and be a part of it,” Diane Dobson, Wyman’s daughter and Interim CEO of Renton Chamber of Commerce, said. “And that Metrix will realize their dreams in the same way our family did over the years.”
It wasn’t easy to leave the office— he had 50 years of stuff to move out of the building, and documents that had been there since his father and other associates had passed. Diane Dobson said he wasn’t ready to retire, as the family tried to get him down to a three-day-a-week work schedule. She said this is because he kept wanting to help his clients.
He doesn’t say no to helping people, she said. Every time he said someone was his last case, another client would walk through the door needing his help.
Now that he’s finally retired, Dobson spends time focusing on his yard. He’s known for his garden, featured in the Renton Reporter in 2008, for its incredibly tall corn stalks, tomatoes, carrots and zucchinis. Leftover veggies have always gone to family, friends or the Renton Salvation Army. He’s also working on puzzles with his wife, Vicky Dobson.
In retirement, Dobson’s biggest vice remains fishing— he remembers fishing in Cedar River before there were catch-and-release laws. Now he gets to set his sights on some grander waters.