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Reality check provides him dream job

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NORTH BEND - Most reality checks are harsh, but Ron Garrow enjoyed his.

When Garrow becomes North Bend's first ever public works director later this month, he will be continuing a lifelong desire of public engineering that started in his youth when he realized what he could really do for a living.

When Garrow was a child, he saw television specials about Jacques Cousteau, the famous French marine explorer, and wanted to become an underwater engineer. But as he grew older, he realized his prospects of becoming one were slim.

"I thought, 'Where am I going to get a job as an underwater engineer?'" Garrow said. "It was a reality check."

Always good at math, Garrow took a crack studying plain old engineering at the University of Washington. He completed his bachelor's and master's degrees and considered getting his Ph.D. until his counselors basically told him to get a job.

"They said it was time for me to spend some time in the real world," Garrow said.

He spent his first 16 years of work in the private sector, providing consulting for different firms that were contracted by municipalities. His contacts landed him a job in Pacific as a consulting city engineer, and he found himself drawn to the myriad projects cities have to deal with, from laying water lines to demolishing bridges.

He went onto similar jobs in Federal Way, Fife and Milton, all the time working up to the level of head engineer.

"I really just happened upon the public sector," he said. "I stuck around and I liked it."

Garrow's duties will be a mix of those already being handled by City Engineer Cliff Cooper, who is retiring, Community Services Director Larry Stockton and City Administrator Phil Messina.

Garrow will be helping out with everything from road construction to parks planning. With more than 25 years of experience, there is little Garrow has not done, helped with or at least seen someone else do.

"He had the best overall background," said Messina, who helped pick Garrow out of a field of 21 applicants for the job. "He doesn't have a very specific knowledge, but rather has broad knowledge of everything, which is what we need in a public works director."

But Garrow knows there will be one project the staff and the city will be particularly interested in: water. North Bend's lack of water rights, which instigated a building moratorium, has been crippling to the development of any city plans.

The politically charged atmosphere surrounding growth issues doesn't intimidate Garrow, though. He sees his job as a service to the people, and simply wants to do the will of those he serves.

"The best part about this job is the people aspect of it," Garrow said. "It's the little things that I get thanked for. It's good to be part of a big project that ends up in the paper, but I really enjoy helping out ordinary citizens with their problems. Even if I get a thank you from the city staff, it's good to hear.''

Garrow knows he has his work cut out for him, but is looking forward to his new job and all the challenges that will come with it. He wants to tackle the issues around growth, new buildings, transportation and even that pesky water problem.

Perhaps he will get to engineer under water after all.

You can reach Ben Cape at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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