Gary Gallagher brings a lifetime of skills to Breck
Breckenridge Town Council member Gary Gallagher, who has lived in Summit County for the past ten years, has worked diligently during his tenure on council to reach compromise so Breck will continue to be a top tourist destination.
“This town has really gotten the message that this is a business,” he said. “I don’t know how long ago, but at some point Breck moved beyond being just a quaint, tiny, local town.”
After graduating from Villanova in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in business, Gallagher joined many of his generation in Southeast Asia, when he was drafted into the Vietnam War. He was part of a small (four or five soldiers) clandestine unit that used a German shepherd for recognizance work.
“We snuck across the boarder to Laos and Cambodia,” he recalled. “We’d hide and try to find the enemy.”
The unit was not for the weak of heart, as Gallagher explained if they had been caught the army would deny any knowledge of their mission.
“I’m not a risk adverse person,” he said. “I’ve taken risks in my business career and my non-business career.”
After returning in one piece from Vietnam, Gallagher earned an MBA from USC in 1973.
“I then moved to NYC to start my career in banking,” he said.
After 22 years in the banking world, mostly with Lehman Brothers and Citi Corp, Gallagher retired in 1995. The following year his family relocated to Boulder.
“We had to make a decision when I retired. Did we want to stay on the East Coast and have more of a water orientation or did we like the mountains better,” he said.
After mulling over communities from Seattle to Santa Fe, Gallagher and his family realized all their recent vacations had been out west.
“So we said OK we’re going west and it’s going to be the mountains and the outdoors,” he said.
Since his children were in middle school at the time, the family wasn’t yet prepared to land in a mountain resort.
“We wanted a larger town that had more variety of schools,” he noted.
After nine years in Boulder, with the children beginning to venture out on their own, Gallagher and his wife, Genia, headed for higher elevation.
“We decided that one, we wanted to be more in the mountains,” he said. “But we also wanted the proximity to Denver and the airport.”
They targeted Summit County and visited Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne, before settling on Breckenridge.
“To us it was the best of both worlds,” he said. “You had a nice Victorian town, with families, children and young people, that was a real community.”
The Gallaghers didn’t feel the other towns offered the same variety with such density.
“And obviously being at the base of a great ski mountain didn’t hurt,” he said.
After a few years in Breck, Gallagher started becoming more involved with community issues. He served as president of his homeowners association and became friends with then fire chief Gary Green.
“I started getting more interested in fire matters, wildfires and things of that nature,” he said. “An opportunity came to run for a board position for Red, White & Blue (fire district), so that was my first introduction into public service in terms of having to run and be elected.”
After serving on the wildfire council, an opening on the advisory committee for the Summit Combined Housing Authority garnered his interest, due to his background in finance and real estate. Through this time of public service, Gallagher began to gradually build a network of contacts in Breck, which helped to initiate his campaign for council.
“A couple people came to me and said Gary you ought to think about running for town council,” he recalled. “So it wasn’t Gary Gallagher, who is he, or gee he’s just a cotton top, that’s the expression they use for us older guys.”
Gallagher realized he was fighting a battle of perception.
“The thought was for a long, long time, a retiree, it’s great to have them here, but we don’t really want to have them on town council because all they’re going to want to do is change everything and make it look like the place from which they had come,” he said.
Many felt that relocating seniors didn’t understand local history or culture, didn’t operate a business here or raise their children in the area.
“What I did, because I wasn’t well known in a deep sense, I made a point of really reaching out to a lot of folks that I did not know, but whose names I did know as being influencers or people in key positions,” he explained.
In an attempt to self telemarket, Gallagher called local movers and shakers to introduce himself and inquire what issues were of the highest concern.
“The community is so great that no one turned me down and I ended up doing about 65 one on ones,” he said. “I think what helped me get elected is that people could see I wasn’t a Johnny come lately, in other words I had put in my time.”
Gallagher said Breck has progressed to the point that people realize you don’t have to live here for 25 or 30 years in order to have the knowledge necessary to excel at representing the community.
“I think with all of that they said, well one guy can’t screw it up, so if this cotton top gets out of control, or we’ve misjudged him, the other six will keep him in line,” he opined.
Elected to town council in April 2012, Gallagher said he feels fortunate to have served for the past three and a half years but will not seek reelection next April.
“There’s a civility and a respectfulness (among town council),” he noted. “There are times we can disagree, and we disagreed vehemently on the marijuana issue, but at the end of the day nobody left chambers because somebody didn’t agree with them.”
From his perspective, Gallagher said the council’s strong working relationship has enabled extensive progress.
“The proof in the pudding is the fact that all you’ve got to do is look around town at all the infrastructure and the programs that the town has done,” he said.
Issues the town council continues to address include affordable workforce housing and tuition assistance for childcare. Other examples Gallagher mentioned included the new community center in Breckenridge or the development of an arts district.
“You can go on and on, and its just a series of successful accomplishments that I think go back to serving the long term interests of our locals and our guests,” he said. “I think that’s the benchmark.”
Prior to his era of community volunteerism, Gallagher noted there were sometimes challenges filling boards positions.
“There came to be an appreciation that there is a lot of human capital in this community,” he said. “Not only people who have been here for 10, 20 or 30 years, but also folks, the cotton tops, who have come into the area big time in the last 5 to 10 years.”
Looking forward Gallagher envisions Breck will keep growing its market share.
“When you have marketing machines and branding machines that are continuing to refine their messaging, we’re going to continue to be a very popular destination, not only for the Front Range but nationally and more internationally,” he said.
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