John Gallagher is nearing the end of a remarkable career in local government, soaking up the accolades for his role in making this county better. But as he'll quickly tell you, he owes much of his success to a gruff, plain-speaking former New York cop named Walter Jones.
In those early days, when Gallagher walked into a hornet's nest and a grand jury pronounced Pasco government corrupt and broken, it was Jones who guided his friend and provided the toughness needed to dispose of the trash.
Of course it helped that the County Commission provided what Gallagher calls the "Ayatollah Khomeini ordinance,'' sweeping powers to take control of a system where developers routinely gifted employees in return for favors, a quid pro quo that landed the commission chairman, Barry Doyle, in prison. Gallagher, a former teacher and manager of small town New Port Richey, had become the county administrator. He chose Jones to be executioner.
"He was good at it,'' Gallagher said this week, a sadness in his voice. "He was good at everything he did.''
Jones, who once advised the highest-ranking leaders at the New York Police Department and guided the creation of code enforcement and professional emergency services in Pasco, died on April 2 at a hospital near his home in Allen, Texas. He was 83.
The news was slow getting back to Pasco because the family took him to Nanuet, N.Y., for burial, and "because I couldn't bring myself to talk about it,'' said Joan, his wife of 59 years. "It's still just so hard. He was the love of my life.''
They had taken up part-time residence in Texas to be near their sons, Michael, Arthur and Patrick, along with nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. "The whole tribe came by all the time,'' Joan said, "and Walter could not have been happier.''
Just a few months ago, the couple took a cruise. Diabetes and some other age-related problems had forced Jones to give up his beloved golf, but he seemed fine at 8 a.m. March 17 as he sat in an easy chair and watched Sunday Mass on TV. A proud Irishman, he looked forward to celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but even more so the 13th birthday of granddaughter Jessica. "All of the sudden I saw him pressing on his arm,'' Joan said. "I said, 'What are you trying to do?' He didn't answer. He had a massive stroke.''
As the news found its way to Pasco this week, old friends recalled the man who honed his toughness starting in 1954 as a New York City cop walking a beat in East Harlem. By the time he retired in 1975, he was deputy inspector. Along the way he earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Fordham University and a master's in criminal justice from Long Island University. He worked briefly as police commissioner for the city of Peekskill, N.Y., before Gallagher hired him to run New Port Richey's personnel department.
When Gallagher became county administrator in 1982, he called on his most trusted allies from the city, Jones and budget director Mike Nurrenbrock. Ben Harrill rounded out the team as county attorney and, as Gallagher says, "We started to form the rock.''
With a clear mandate from the commission (and grand jury), they began to stabilize and reorganize departments. Jones, as chief assistant administrator for eight years before he fully retired, is credited with building an emergency services department from scratch, ironic when you consider that firefighters and medics have been the most consistent and vociferous critics of Gallagher's administration over the years.
Jones set the tone early with his tough negotiations and was labeled a "union buster.''
Fair description, but hardly the proper legacy of a man of strength and character who came along at a time those qualities were in particular demand.