It doesn’t take an extrovert to lead a region to a better place.
Charles V. “Tom” Gibbs, who died June 19 at the age of 87, will be long remembered as a champion of sweeping public efforts in the Seattle region and elsewhere. He was an engineer, not a political operator, and his thoughtful efforts guided Seattle through crucial stages of its late 20th century evolution into a world-class city.
When the region mustered the will in 1958 to clean up Lake Washington, Gibbs handled the immense engineering task of creating a regional sewage solution for the 14 municipalities that pumped wastewater into the lake. Within a decade, the discharge was halted and Gibbs had risen to director of King County Metro.
Gibbs’ success made him a nationally recognized champion of public works, and he made this a platform to convene top sewage experts to write the federal Clean Water Act. Such skill at unifying disparate voices into a common solution is rare, and Gibbs deployed it with admirable frequency.
He was a natural fit to lead Metro Transit when the agency was created by merging four separate bus agencies. Even after his departure for the private sector, this talent helped him reconcile city, state and federal demands with a massive project to stop Milwaukee’s sewage spills into Lake Michigan.
As the Puget Sound region copes again with the stresses of metropolitan growth, Gibbs’ ability to conjure governmental harmony should be a model for current leaders.