For 40 years, Valencia’s been the example

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Six mayors. Four decades. And so many stories. 

Elaine Valencia has been the executive assistant to mayors in Bremerton since 1983. She’s survived quite a variety of personalities, keeping each one in line and on track and establishing a reputation that the next mayor in line felt they couldn’t live without.

On Friday, she celebrated her 40th year with the city. But she’d be just fine without any pomp and circumstance, happy to leave the limelight to her boss.

“I prefer to stay in the background and not draw a lot of attention,” she said.

A lifelong Bremerton resident — her father Jerry Yeadon was the elected clerk of Bremerton for a couple terms — she graduated from West High School in 1969.

She got a job in the city’s parks and recreation department as an office assistant in 1974, transferring to the planning department after about a year. There, she stayed until 1983, shortly after the city’s charter passed and a strong mayor form of government replaced a city commission in Bremerton.

When she left the planning department, she had it written in her contract that she’d “bumped” back there if she lost her position in the mayor’s office, where at that time she served Morrie Dawkins.

But, “I never had to use it,” she said of the contract.

The job, she said, requires a diligence in staying on top of daily affairs and correspondence. There are days when the office is flooded and someone unprepared would be overwhelmed. If the ball is dropped, she said, it can damage the entire office’s — and indeed the city’s — reputation.

Case in point: when Gene Lobe, the second mayor she served, came aboard in 1986 he had Valencia on three months’ probation. She recalled being late for a few things in those early days. On the day the three months was up, he called her into his office. He decided to  retain her but told her that she was never to be late for anything again.

“You have to be the example for all other employees,” Lobe told her.

The message has resonated to Valencia to this day.

“I’ve never been late since,” she said.

Mayor Louis Mentor, taking the reins in 1990, never even asked if Valencia would stay on. She just kept going. Mayor Lynn Horton made a point of asking that she stay, Valencia said.

Mayor Cary Bozeman told Valencia “everyone told me that I have to keep you,” and so she stayed through another tenure.

When current Mayor Patty Lent was elected, it was a familiar face. Both had known each other through the Lions Club and Valencia had seen Lent in the mayor’s office before when Lent was a county commissioner.

Over those five mayors’ tenures she’s watched a downtown bustling with life nearly die, only to be reborn again in recent years.

The most exciting time of her career was Bozeman’s initiatives, she said. When he would brainstorm, she admits now she was skeptical of things like waterfront condos.

“He would tell me these ideas and I’d tell him, ‘that’s never gonna happen,'” she said. “I had to apologize later when they actually did.”

She said it’s still satisfying to see people — especially families — walk the streets downtown again.

Valencia plans to stay on through Lent’s next three years. She’ll be 66 when Lent’s term is up. She said she’s contemplating leaving the job but will leave it to the person who wins the next mayoral race to ultimately decide.

“I’m fine with retiring,” she said. “But I’m happy to stay here too.”

If history’s any indicator, then all bets are on the latter.

3 thoughts on “For 40 years, Valencia’s been the example

  1. Shhh, Josh, don’t let my secret out. Want to get something done in the city of Bremerton? Call Elaine. Mayors will come, and Mayors will go, but when Elaine decides to retire, the city of Bremerton will suffer. If I were in charge, I’d write it in her contract that she needs to stick around long enough to train her replacement. Any mayor worth their salt will take her advice on a replacement, if and when she decides to retire. 😉

    Robin

  2. Job well done. Something to talk about at our class reunion. I can say I love walking downtown and checking out the stores. Thank you for your service.

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