Institutional Knowledge with Lew Quigley, Part 1

As a part of the Institutional Knowledge project, we are recording the wisdom and experience of retiring and retired leaders in local government. If you know someone who could add something to this project, let me know! You can reach out to me on TwitterLinkedIn or send me an email.

As a part of this project, I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet some incredible government leaders. I absolutely loved chatting with Lew Quigley. He has such a great sense of humor and is full of wisdom for local government leaders. A BIG thanks to Laura Savage, ELGL member, for introducing Lew and me.  


Tell us a little bit about your career.

I’ve several different experiences. In 1954-1958, I served in the United States Air Force. After leaving the Air Force in 1958, and entered Indiana University. I was there until 1961, and majored in Parks and Recreation Administration. If you’re familiar with that field, you know that Indiana University was the premier school for those that were interested in parks and recreation administration. After graduation, I moved to Evansville, Indiana and worked with the recreation program. I left that position in 1963 and went to Columbia, Missouri. I was the parks and recreation administrator for the city.

In 1968, I went to St. Louis, Missouri and became the superintendent of parks for St. Louis County. I left that position in 1975 and traveled to Pueblo, Colorado. I worked as the director of parks and recreation for the city of Pueblo. In 1984, I was appointed as the Assistant City Manager for the city of Pueblo. In 1987, I was named as the City Manager and served in that position until 2000. From 2000 until 2010, I did consulting for various cities and counties in the Pueblo area. I was elected to be a board member of Pueblo-West in 2012. I’m now retired, whatever that means.

As you entered Indiana University, you knew right away that you wanted to do parks and recreation, is that correct?

That’s correct. As far as public service goes, parks and recreation is probably the best because everybody loves you. It’s truly a service to the community. There’s no established conclusion as to what you are going to the community. It’s a mean to get really involved with the public.

It’s really a great lead-in into the management side of government. City management is the ultimate service that one can provide to the community. If you want to make a change with the community, get involved with the administration. You can contribute more directly to the community than you would be able to in other professions.

While at Indiana University, I realized that there are two kinds of people: people who like to work with things, and people who want to work with people. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you were a computer whiz and had to work with people? I’m illiterate with computers, but I can be a whiz with people—getting along and working with people to see things done. In order to decide what career is best, you have to decide what kind of person you are.

Laura Savage: Lew is definitely not a computer person. He showed me his iPad one time and it had over 1,200 unread emails.

When I brought that iPad to Laura, I said, “There are 1,200 emails on here. I’ve not opened one of those.”

But in my life, those emails didn’t really have any effect on my personally. I didn’t take the time to read them. So was it really important? I don’t think so, because it didn’t effect my day-to-day. It’s an eye opener to see how much we’re controlled by technology. It has no positive influence or contribution; it’s just chatter. All of it is just noise that distracts us. In government, unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of noise that impacts what we do.

What was your favorite position?

Probably, my favorite job was serving as County Park Superintendent, because we built places where the people in the city could relax. That was a great job.

Unfortunately, there was a lot stress and travel involved with it. In that metropolitan area, there was a high amount of crime, and so we moved to Pueblo to get away.

Do you have a least favorite position?

I believe that everything we do is an experience, so I always look forward to whatever that experience may be. Although some positions were better than others, but if you want to make a change in the way government is run, you have to get involved. The most difficult part is deciding where and at what level you want to get involved.

Quite frankly, I’m not an intellectual giant. For me, that means that I do what’s best for the people I’m serving. I’m not concerned with how great I am, how many letters I receive, how often I see my name in the paper. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not the important part. What’s important is helping the people accomplish collectively, what none of them can accomplish on their own.

Tell us about a time that you learned a difficult lesson during your career.

During my time in Columbia, Missouri, segregation was still prevalent. Brown v. Board of Education had only recently been passed. That was difficult because the city had two pools: the public pool or the “minority” pool, and the private pool. I’ve never been a person to discriminate against others, so I tried to overcome that.

I always tell the story: the health department would check that public pool by throwing a black disk in that sunk to the bottom. As long as they could see the disk, the pool was safe to swim in. This experience made me aware and attuned to the fact that government is here to provide equality opportunity for everyone. It also taught me how to get passed that.


Have you learned something new as part of your career in local government? Or do you know someone who has had an outstanding career in local government? We want to hear about it! Contact Jacob Johnson to nominate someone for the #InstitutionalKnowledge series: Twitter | LinkedIn email