Scott Gallacher, executive director of the Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District, died unexpectedly at work April 30. He was 49 years old.
Gallacher collapsed while chasing a suspected prowler away from Volunteer Park. A witness called 911 and first responders searching the area found Gallacher unresponsive.
The 35-year-old man he was chasing cooperated with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. He had been seen rattling the locked door handle of the Snack Shack, near Gallacher’s office, when employees inside told him they were closed.
It was unclear why the man ran away or why Gallacher chased him. Deputies did not detain the man, who said he was asking for water.
“Scott was very protective of the parks in general and it’s somehow fitting that’s how he died,” said his wife, Kirsten Gallacher.
“The medical examiner has still not determined the cause of death. Scott went to the doctor regularly and had just been checked out in February and all was well. It seems weird, but for now we just don’t know.”
Scott and Kirsten met just out of college while working together for the Mukilteo YMCA. He was hired for the newly created position of sports coordinator, but without enough duties to keep him busy, the Y assigned him to help the director of a daycare at a nearby school.
“For a time, I was his boss,” Kirsten said. “The kids were fourth and fifth graders and they loved him.” After he stopped working at the school, Scott would occasionally phone the classroom and the kids would sometimes answer. Hearing his voice, Kirsten said the kids would squeal, “He likes you, he likes you.”
And so it proved.
They began dating in April 1994. Scott played on three softball teams at the time; Kirsten was into mountain biking. Within two weeks of their first date, Scott bought a mountain bike. Two years later, they married. Their daughter Haylie was born in late summer 2001, followed by their son Caden in spring 2004. "Scott was always working, always on the job."
They moved to the KP in 2005, when Scott became the first executive director of the new Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District — Key Pen Parks — created by KP voters in May of that year to replace the nearly bankrupt 30-year-old Key Peninsula Parks and Recreation District.
“I was a new commissioner when Scott was hired on,” said former Board President Bill Trandum. “Ed Taylor was the one who found Scott working for some other park district and made the case to us that it would be crazy not to hire this young guy. Ed and I have not often seen eye to eye on things but on Scott we were right in lockstep all the way.”
“I got to know Scott pretty well,” Taylor said. “He lived with us at our home in those first few months, until his wife and young family relocated from Snohomish County. He took hold of the position and ran with it.”
Taylor, now 88 years old, and his fellow community leader Mike Salatino, who died in 2010, were convinced the KP deserved a much bigger space beyond its anchor Volunteer Park —with opportunities for a host of outdoor recreational activities that required considerable open space.
“I always had my eye on that Gateway Park property, but Scott and others somehow made it happen,” Taylor said. “And look at it now.”
“I worked with Scott for seven years,” Trandum said. “Any time there was any new idea, whether it was the lease of 360 Trails or Maple Hollow, Scott jumped on it with both feet and tried to figure out how do we do this so it doesn’t cost our taxpayers any money but the benefit will come to them.”
Over time, Trandum became concerned that Scott was too good at his job. “I told some of the other commissioners that my biggest fear was the Gig Harbor district would double his salary and we would suddenly find ourselves without him. But he stuck to his guns, he stayed with us and he never complained. He just was a real heads-up ballplayer. I’m terribly sad that he’s gone.”
“Scott did whatever had to be done,” said current Board President Ed Robison. “No job was beneath him. He scooped horse poop at Volunteer Park when the horse people didn’t pick it up.”
Robison said Scott also worked on projects unrelated to the parks. “He did so much more for the community than what was in his job description. He participated with the Key Peninsula Business Association and worked with organizations like The Mustard Seed Project, the civic center, the Longbranch Improvement Club and Two Waters Arts Alliance, just to name a few.” "Scott did whatever had to be done."
“I think that’s just who he was,” said Board Vice President Shawn Jensen. “Driven. He saw a goal and something that needed to be done and he’d move hell or high water to make sure it got done and got done right.”
Jensen said Scott was working on finishing the splashpad at Gateway and preparing for the next phase in that park’s development.
“He was gearing up to submit some grants — most of the property that Key Pen Parks has acquired has been through grants that he spearheaded. I always found him to be very focused, very methodical in what he did. Anybody can be tough to work with sometimes when they’ve got a goal that they’re focused on, but I would say despite the gruff exterior he loved people, he loved the parks, he loved seeing them filled with people enjoying themselves.”
“He did butt heads with people,” Kirsten said. “And if someone else didn’t see it the same way, he made himself very clear and he spoke his mind, and then he was done. He didn’t hold grudges. I don’t know many people that can do that.”
Park Commissioner Mark Michel said, “I met him first probably 12 years ago, working on a grant.”
He and Scott worked on many projects together, including grants, trail and park development, and organizing public events such as mountain bike races. “I’d say we went from maybe three miles of trails to over 15 now just in the last eight years or so at 360 Trails,” Michel said. People come from all over the state to ride those trails every day.
“When he came out here the modern KP parks was in its infancy,” he said. “Scott was a young, new hire for us. He’d never been in charge before, and he essentially grew up with the modern version of Key Pen Parks.”
As Scott’s knowledge and skill grew, so did Key Pen Parks. “I think he started to step up and get much better at grant writing and presentations and learning more about working with different grant managers. He brought in millions of dollars to the Key Peninsula for acquisition and development and preservation of different properties,” Michel said.
“He was just a pit bull at times, and if you were on the wrong side of that it could be problematic,” he said. “But it helped if you understood he was so passionate because he cared so much about the district and he didn’t want it to be compromised in any way.”
Michel said he was reminded of this while biking at Gateway recently. “I was out by the pavilion and there was this young couple teaching their 5-year-old how to ride a two-wheeler, and he was just so exuberant. You just knew this little boy would remember this forever. Scott would’ve loved seeing that. That’s why he worked so hard for us. That is his legacy.”
“Scott was always working, always on the job,” Kirsten said. “I can’t tell you how many times he would get a call and have to run out late at night to the park because there was some sort of emergency. We went on a Caribbean cruise with friends two years ago and when the ship pulled into port he made phone calls to deal with something important for the parks.”
But Scott was also a very attentive “hands-on dad,” Kirsten said. “We definitely shared responsibilities for everything. He attended every Little League game, football game, every dance performance. It was really important to him to go support his kids. And it was nice that his job was flexible enough that he could attend everything,” she said.
“Scott was physically active. He continued playing softball all his life and he played on a team last year. He loved to play and coach. He especially enjoyed golf, but didn’t have the time to play as much as he would have liked,” Kirsten said.
“He would drop everything to help a friend or family member. Always. If anybody needed anything, he was there for them. That’s who he was. He was very selfless,” she said.