Jim Gallagher, a gifted newspaperman whose skill at building relationships was enormously influential in the establishment and flowering of the Peninsula’s public transportation system, died at his Redwood City home Thursday.
Gallagher, who retired as deputy general manager of the San Mateo County Transit District in 2004, was 83 and died of leukemia.
Gallagher grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and spent 20 years working for daily newspapers, including stints as a sports writer and city editor of the Redwood City Tribune.
Multi-talented, quick on his feet and well-liked by his staff, Gallagher’s first love was journalism and he knew how to spot a story and run with it.
“Working with him was fantastic,” said photographer Reg McGovern. “You could call in something and he’d sit at his typewriter and turn out a masterful job. If you came up with a suggestion, he wasn’t a doubting Thomas. He’d go with it.”
Longtime friend George Gananian, who met Gallagher while working in his father’s engraving shop, recalled coming to work one Saturday to find only two employees had come to work in the editorial department — Gallagher and reporter John Kane.
“They got the whole paper newspaper out between the two of them,” Gananian said. “They were almost gleeful about it.”
In 1976, Gallagher became the fledgling San Mateo County Transit District’s fifth employee when General Manager John Mauro hired him as public information officer, and then promoted him two times the same year. During his 28-year SamTrans career, Gallagher was involved with key initiatives to expand public transit in two corridors, the extension of BART south from Daly City and the transition of the Southern Pacific commute service to public ownership.
John Ward, a former San Mateo County supervisors who served on the SamTrans board, said Gallagher could be counted on to script something appropriate when board members needed to make a presentation.
Born in Fresno, Gallagher’s formative years were spent in Santa Cruz, where his family lived for a few years at the lighthouse, where his grandfather was superintendent. As a teen, Gallagher’s interest in track and field blossomed and he constructed pole vault pits in the sandy areas around his grandfather’s ranch.
During his second year at Stockton College, Gallagher transferred to Stanford University and earned a letter as a member of the 440-relay team. He married Nancy Fick in 1952, reporting a few months later for U.S. Marine Corps officer candidates school, entering training in Quantico, Virginia, in 1953. Gallagher subsequently served in Japan and returned to the U.S. in 1955.
The Gallaghers have three children: Rob, Kevin and Kathleen, and four grandchildren Jennifer Gallagher and Turner, Ramsey and Landon Baty. Gallagher is also survived by a sister, Linda Vaughn of the Seattle, Washington, area.
Services are pending.