By ANNA STOUT
You’re not getting my messages anymore. That will take some time to get used to.
We still have so much to talk about. I planned on another 15 years of big-picture projects to tackle together. And I certainly wasn’t done learning from you yet.
You set so many things in motion that are bearing fruit in our community. From the Community Transformation Group in Clifton to the GV Task Force Human Services Working Group and everything in between, you were the engine behind so much of the game-changing work happening in the valley. You modeled how to lead an agency with profound humility and a self-examining approach to improvement, how to never sacrifice the mission for the bottom line (many remember you defiantly promised you “would never balance the budget on the backs of children and at-risk adults”), and how to build an exceptional team around dignity and shared values.
You worked hard to stay out of the limelight, which is why I think you would get a kick out of this: The article about your death had more traffic than any other Sentinel coverage in the last six months. (You trumped the elections, more than a handful of scandals, and even Jeff Kuhr!) The news rocked our community and the outpouring of support for your family, colleagues, and friends shows just how deeply you touched people here. You had no idea the love and admiration this community had for you. Your influence was exponential in ways you never could have imagined.
Let me quickly get through the things people are saying about you because I know you would hate to have so much attention on you. People are calling you dogged, relentless, and courageous when they talk about your commitment to making drastic and lasting change. Without fail, they mention your authenticity and your humility, which is undoubtedly what you will be most remembered for. Across the state, high-level public servants are attributing their careers to you and talking about finding success by emulating you fighting for what is right.
Those of us who worked or collaborated with you talk about how you could see how disparate factors intersected and influenced each other, and about your vision of bringing separate efforts together to work toward a singular goal. We admire how you modeled thinking and acting boldly, how you would challenge people who refused to think big, and how you never made (or took) anything personally. You could call someone out in the morning and have a beer with them in the afternoon.
You were one of my favorite people to work with, Tracey. I would leave our conversations feeling energized, hopeful, and deeply grateful. You were never judgmental of the people whose lives you were committed to improving and you never shot down an idea. I was awestruck by the way you championed the social capital, social connectedness, and social determinants approach to solving our most complex problems.
Your unwavering conviction that we can do what is right for our community — our whole community — by chucking what has always been done and trying something bold instead has served as a model for me. You taught us all that if we want to make change, we can’t change one program at a time and that nothing will happen because of something one agency does; it must be systemic to be effective.
A bunch of us got together the other day to honor you. We laughed and told stories about you. (Almost all of them included some foul language, many talked about how you would wake up at 3 a.m. to smoke meat for your DHS family, and how you took to heart things your wife or daughters said, and at least one had to do with a time you stopped traffic to retrieve bags that flew out the back of a Suburban you didn’t close properly.) But what was incredible was how conversations inevitably turned to the work we’re doing in Clifton or to something one agency wanted to float by another and suddenly we would realize the collaboration that was taking place across the table at a memorial for you was a product of your big ideas. That is your legacy, my friend.
By the way, I finally bought that book you never stopped talking about — the one about the Wildly Important Goals.
I hope what we learn from your passing is that if we all channel our inner Tracey Garchar and go out of our way to know our neighbors, work with people who don’t agree with us, and commit to achieving Wildly Important Goals, our community will be a markedly better place.
Our community has a gaping hole without you in it. You are a once-in-a-lifetime leader, public servant, director, and friend. I will miss you tremendously.
Anna Stout serves on the Grand Junction City Council and is the chief executive officer of the Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction.