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All about community

Cliff Thompson

One of life’s hard realities – that life itself isn’t always fair – was hammered home this week. Incumbent Eagle County Commissioner Mike Gallagher announced he won’t be seeking a second term. His poor health caused him to reach this inescapable and excruciating conclusion that in January he will abandon a job he clearly loves. He’s doing this not because of any regulation requiring it, but because he feels that the people who put him in office deserve a representative capable of doing a better job than he’s now capable of doing. He’s been sick, very sick, as a result of exposure to dioxin, a toxic defoliant used in Vietnam where he was a soldier in 1970 and 1971. In recent years his once burly body has been slimmed and his strength and energy sapped by an inexplicable nerve disease. He’s been to the Mayo Clinic seeking answers. Thus far he has none.Most who know him agree that he’s a decent man who also is unflinchingly polite, kind and compassionate, and one who truly loves being a county commissioner. He has suffered through ill health with as much grace as anyone I’ve ever seen, and that’s not easy. That he’s being denied a chance to run again by a body wracked by problems from exposure to Agent Orange is just not fair.I believe he’s the kind of guy you would want on a jury of your peers if you were charged with a capital crime. His presence would ensure you’d get a fair and impartial hearing. He brings that same sense to the county.As a police chief in Minturn he tried to hire officers who demonstrated compassion instead of a police presence. On the Board of County Commissioners I’ve watched him quietly ease out of the spotlight in that arena, which can be filled with chest thumping, grandstanding and self-promotional first-person pronouns. He doesn’t seem to care who gets credit for what’s being done, just so long as the citizens of the county receive the benefit. He has the oxymoronic tendency of being conspicuously humble. This humility can be absent in county meetings when he’s not there. Several years back he spent five years studying before being ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church. That religious foundation has provided both strength and an understanding of what human needs are and the role spirituality plays in society. He knows about pain and suffering, and that it creates need.He may have a better understanding of this than anyone I know. He’s has several of what he calls “near conversations with God.” He survived a helicopter accident while serving in the military. More than a decade ago, he was repeatedly shocked back to life after a major heart attack. There may be something special going on here that’s not entirely attributable to massive jolts of direct current.But he hasn’t always been in lockstep with the people who put him in office, and he’s certainly not perfect. Like everyone else, he’s a work in progress.In the late 1990s, while serving on the Minturn Town Council, voters ousted him after he got too far ahead of them with a proposal for a large new town hall, complete with commercial space and housing. That was too much, too soon for Minturn, a town that has clung tenaciously to the status quo.But shortly thereafter, town leaders turned around and quickly rehired him to help them in their battle over water rights with a consortium of water users that included Vail Resorts and local water districts.He angered fellow Democrats when he endorsed Republican Tom Stone over Democratic challenger Jerry Sandberg in the 2002 election. But he had his reasons and is happy to explain them to any who care to listen. Even if you disagree with his decisions as a commissioner, it’s tough not to like him because he brings a blue-collar sensibility to a county that is ever-more sophisticated and abstract in its operation.By dint of the vigorous partisan positions taken by his fellow commissioners, who push away from each other like repelling magnets, he has in fact, become the decision maker. I think he already knows that he’s fortunate to have found his calling serving the public. He’s done it well.This is a better place because of you, Michael.Cliff Thompson has covered Eagle County for over 20 years. He can be reached at cthompson@vaildaily.com or 949-0555, ext. 450.


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