Elton Gatewood, founding director of Tacoma’s Neighborhood Council program is retiring Tuesday after 37 years with the city.
He did not want to go. The loss is one of the casualties of the city’s economic crisis.
Thanks to his deep knowledge of the city and wise and gentle diplomatic skills, the neighborhood councils have driven citizen involvement that has brought peace and beauty to many areas of Tacoma.
We invited people to comment on Gatewood’s accomplishments, and this is part of what we heard:
“I’m glad you are apparently planning a note or article about Elton Gatewood – I hope it’s about his contributions, his generous spirit, and his dedication to helping give Tacoma’s neighborhoods an effective voice in the city (as well as his contributions to numerous other cities’ neighborhood councils).
“I met Elton only 4 or 5 years ago, and was quickly impressed with his knowledge of the city government and the way it actually works, his advice on best approaches to city officials, both elected and administrative, and his mentoring of folks like me new to neighborhood councils. He guided with a firm and yet flexible hand, letting us know what was required and how best to provide it, and doing it with a quiet and unassuming leadership style that made one listen carefully.
“Elton founded the neighborhood council system 20 years ago, working with activists all over the city, including Marion Weed out here in NE Tacoma. In my experience, he kept up the dedication to neighborhood empowerment, consistently working in the neighborhoods’ and the city’s overall interests, sometimes in ways unfavorable to leading figures in the city administration. We will miss his example and leadership.”
John Thurlow, Chair, NE Tacoma Neighborhood Council
“As an officer of the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council knowing and respecting Elton Gatewood has been a privilege. He has been the backbone of the Neighborhood council program teaching us how to have better neighborhoods, by being there available at each our meetings and knowing the resources available.
“No one is a stranger to Elton. He makes it his business to know who you are and call you by name.
“He likes cookies.”
Mrs. Pennie Smith
“Elton Gatewood has been at the heart of the Neighborhood Councils as long as there have been Neighborhood Councils. His presence as the City of Tacoma’s contact person with the Neighborhood Councils has helped strengthen the neighborhoods in Tacoma.
“Although he isn’t one to seek the spotlight, he has gained the respect of the boards of the eight Neighborhood Councils, and the respect of his peers.
“He has been elected president of NUSA (Neighborhoods, USA), the national organization dedicated to strengthening neighborhood organizations, I believe multiple times, and is currently on the board of directors.
“Though he’s said that he’s still going to be around, I’ll miss the skill and dedication he’s brought to the administration of the Neighborhood Council program.”
“Elton Gatewood is such a wealth of knowledge about how to organize and mobilize community action. His book ‘A Practical Manual for Grassroots Organizing and Simple Approaches to Neighborhood Improvements’ is a must-read for anyone trying to organize a neighborhood group.
“In 2007 I was new to the neighborhood council concept, it was soon apparent that you could trust Elton, he always gave good advice. He was always available to answer questions, and to help steer you in the right direction. His knowledge of Tacoma and the workings of city government is tremendous, I am going to miss him so much!”
Elizabeth Burris, New Tacoma Neighborhood Council
“Elton: Mr. Community, Mr. Tacoma, a true ambassador for our City. Elton knows more about Tacoma and its citizens than most people. He loves Tacoma, is dedicated to the Neighborhoods and the Neighborhood Council program and is one of the nicest, kindest, and most giving people that I know. After working with Elton for 20 years, I consider him a good, dear friend and I will greatly miss his presence at Community Council and Neighborhood Council meetings (all of which are his brain-children), and all other city meetings and functions.
“Elton is kind, considerate and has a great sense of humor. He knows when and how to talk to people -and he knows when not to say anything. He is a diplomat.
“Elton is someone you can ask for help from and know that what he tells you is, to the best of his knowledge, the best way to handle a situation; he is so much smarter than those around him, but never, ever makes anyone feel that he is smarter than they are; Elton respects everyone- regardless- all people of Tacoma receive the same respectful quality of care when they deal with him. Elton will be missed by so very many people- most of all, by those of us who consider him a true friend- I will miss him more than he can possibly know.”
“Elton has provided a legacy of public service and throughout his 37 years as a civil servant he always asked, what about the customer?
“During his tenure the customer was always the citizens of Tacoma, and the well being of Tacoma’s neighborhoods. Elton has served not once, but twice as President of NUSA (Neighborhood, USA) founded in 1975, dedicated to building stronger neighborhoods. Elton authored, “A Practical Manual for Grassroots Organizing and simple approaches to Neighborhood Improvements”, which has been shared nationwide. I have personally known Elton for six years and know there is no stronger advocate for our neighborhoods and the citizens who reside therein than Elton. On countless occasions he has worked evenings and early mornings to serve the Tacoma Community Council, and the Neighborhood Council’s of our city. While he may be moving on beyond public service his dedication and advocacy to safe and healthy neighborhoods will serve as a benchmark.”
Bob Levin, City of Tacoma, Community and Economic Development
“I met Elton over a decade ago while the Eastside Neighborhood Council was being formed. This gracious soul was able to stay professional and supportive during the most emotional exchanges of people pounding on tables, crying and demonstrating their great passion for our neighborhood. Over the years I have come to respect his wisdom. I miss the days when you could pass his office on the second floor of the municipal building and always feel welcomed by “the City”. He was straight about matters and polite. He always had a solution for how to get problems solved and the whole city is much better as a result of his efforts.
“He always pays attention to each individual and makes them feel like their efforts matter. He is a wonderful chef and at summer barbeques there was always a veggie burger for the one vegetarian, me. I will miss him greatly in his role and wish him a great retirement.
“Elton has been such a joy to work with! I have always appreciated his willingness to work with everyone and his desire to bring people together for the common good. He has been a teacher, a mobilizer, and a wonder example or what it means to truly love your city and community. He will be greatly missed!”
“Elton recognizes that quirky neighborhood personalities are one of our city’s strengths. He rallied us, kept us connected and encouraged, and made each of us feel special through his charming attention (and funny nicknames).”
“Elton Gatewood made a difference every day.”