Touching lives, leaving lasting legacy

  • By Christina Harper <i>For The Herald Business Journal</i>
  • Tuesday, December 24, 2013 1:29pm

From Snohomish County executive to cowboy at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, Bob Drewel has touched the lives of thousands both professionally and personally in his passion for community service and the region.

Taking with him a love of community and a deep commitment to the county, Drewel retired from public life in December.

Well, almost.

He’ll still sit on the board of some groups and fight for what he thinks is right for people in the county until the deed is done.

“He’s still involved right now in keeping Boeing (777x) here,” said Larry Hanson, former publisher of The Herald and long-time Drewel friend. “His job is ending but he’s not stopping this initiative.”

Whether acting as auctioneer for a non-profit organization or getting corporate leaders together with political leaders, Drewel has been pivotal part of all that and more and has made a tireless effort to do the best for the county.

“Bob has had an amazing impact and he has done it all with class and style and with a great sense of humor,” Hanson said.

Of his upcoming retirement, Drewel says that he and his wife, Cheryl, plan on spending time together and hope to do some traveling.

“I owe my darling wife thousands of hours,” Drewel said adding that his daughters, Amy and Lindsay, made a lot of sacrifices too.

Drewel graduated from the University of Washington in 1970. It was there that he met his future wife. He took classes in home economics just so he could be with her. And they’ve been together ever since.

A long and illustrious service began when Drewel went to work for what was then Community College District 5, which was Everett and Edmonds colleges.

“I was director of classified personnel,” Drewel said.

Drewel later went to work for a consulting firm but in 1984 took the job as EVCC President.

Hanson met Drewel in those early days.

“That was my first connection with Bob,” Hanson said. “He reached out to the community.”

In February of 1987, the college was set on fire by an arsonist. The blaze took the life of firefighter Gary Parks who battled flames that destroyed the library and student union building.

“That was a very sad time,” Drewel said.

Drewel ran for Snohomish County executive in 1991. He won that race and served three four-year terms ending in 2003. He and Hanson worked together throughout the years on healthy communities, education, and health care.

When it comes to bringing the private and public sectors together, Drewel is well known for making that happen.

“He has an ambassador style,” Hanson said. “He is very engaging in person and in style.” Drewel’s efforts in a leadership role promoting solutions in issues such as transportation and economic development have made a huge impact in the Pacific Northwest.

In Snohomish County he has been involved with Rotary, the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce, Deaconess Children’s Services and many other organizations.

Snohomish County Councilman Dave Gossett met Drewel during that first campaign for Snohomish County executive. He has worked with Drewel directly and indirectly throughout the years.

Drewel’s lasting impact will be his hand at keeping the aerospace industry in the county, Gossett said.

The former county executive played a significant role in “the 787 being built here in Washington state,” Gossett said, as well as the 737 and the KC-46A aerial-refueling tanker.

Gossett remarked at how Drewel is very good at getting people to the table.

That reputation led one of the teacher’s organizations to make a contribution to Drewel’s campaign in 1995. They said they never got involved in local or county races.

“But Bob had been such a positive influence on education,” Gossett said.

As Drewel steps away from his role as executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council, a group formed by local governments in the central Puget Sound region in 1991, and president of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, he’ll still be involved on some level. Gossett said he should relax and enjoy the time away public life.

“But not too much because we need him.”

Some of the many organizations Drewel has been a part of in the county include the Economic Development Council, United Way, Healthy Communities Initiative, and Snohomish County Needs Assessment Project to name a few.

Hanson, who retired from The Herald in 2002, said that one tip he would give Drewel is one that was given to him upon retirement: “Say yes to the things that give you energy, and no to the things that will drain you of energy.” Hanson said. “He will make good choices.”

Although Drewel said he feels very good about retirement, parts of it are bittersweet, he said. One of the good choices that Drewel is bound to make is to spend more time horseback riding.

“I plan to get up in the saddle more often,” Drewel said.

Drewel and friend, businessman and entertainer the late Gerry Andal appeared at The Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on horseback for many years.

“Gerry called us Hams on Horseback,” Drewel said. “He was a marvelous man.”

The two friends would arrive on horseback, a couple of kids reliving their dreams. Drewel says that the pair gave children thousands of rides on the horses. Some 30-year-olds approach him to tell him that he took them for a ride.

“When you are up in the saddle and you see the light in their eyes,” Drewel said. The children would get up on the horse. “Then you hope they don’t fall off!”

Before Andal died in 2011 he had attended two of Drewel’s retirement parties. Andal is sorely missed.

“He used to sing, ‘How can I miss you if you never leave,’” Drewel said. “I can hear him humming that now.