Larry Galye, Q&A
What was your first impression of St. Albert when you came here?
I loved the rolling hillside, Sturgeon River, the closeness of the farmlands, the tree-lined streets, small-town atmosphere and the friendly residents.
What's worse – hitting the tin in squash or striking out in slo-pitch?
Both are just as frustrating, however in squash you only affect yourself, but in slo-pitch you hurt the team.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
At home: raising our family with my wife Maureen. At work: building a cohesive work team that served the city well. On a material basis: the completion of Ray Gibbon Drive that I'm hoping to complete in 2013.
What would you like written on your tombstone?
Nothing more than "May He Rest in Peace - Hope There's Scotch in Heaven Too"
In a time when mobility has become more important than loyalty, where people are more likely to have multiple careers during their working life, Larry Galye stands out as the exception to the rule.
He has worked for the city for 38 years. He and his wife have lived in the same house since they moved to St. Albert in 1975. He retired once – for two weeks.
But in that 38 years, starting from an office of three and culminating with his appointment as director of engineering for the city, Galye has left his fingerprints on the entire city of St. Albert. Literally.
"What struck me was his loyalty and dedication to the city," says Guy Boston, the city's executive director of economic development, who has known Galye for approximately 20 years. "People can hold a position and job. For Larry, it's his life. He truly does what he does for St. Albert and wears it proudly on his sleeve."
From roads to pipes to trees to even whole neighbourhoods, Galye has built St. Albert from a town of 9,000 people to what it is today – a city of more than 60,000 residents.
"I've tried never to do anything for myself," Galye says. "It was what's best for the community."
Staff of three
Galye's time in St. Albert started before he was even hired by the city. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, where he still keeps some farming land, Galye came to Alberta after a brief stint in the mines in Manitoba. He was hired by an Edmonton consulting firm and his first job was to help build the St. Albert community of Forest Lawn.
"I worked on all of Forest Lawn, or the majority of it," Galye says. "I did all the underground, the roadways, the landscaping component."
But after three years, Galye was finding the pace of his work – 12 to 14-hour days, working on weekends – taxing, especially since he had recently married. He wanted, as he put it, a normal life. So he applied to the then Town of St. Albert for a vacant inspector's position and was hired.
One could almost say the rest is history. But when it comes to building St. Albert, Galye's ascension through the ranks is the city's history. For the sake of reference, when Galye started in 1974, besides the new community of Forest Lawn, the only neighbourhoods were Grandin, Mission, parts of Lacombe Park, and Braeside. Riel, as Galye puts it, was a "cow path."
"It was a small town at that time," says Galye. "Our engineering department had three people – a city engineer and two inspectors."
St. Albert, however, was starting to boom and the department began to grow along with it, as did Galye's responsibilities. Though originally the low man in the department, he started managing all the inspectors. When St. Albert decided to start a transit service, Galye took that on before handing off the finished project to the new transit director, a young Dez Liggett. Before long, Galye was looking after all the engineers, even though he was not an engineer by trade, but a civil tech.
"I never thought it was strange," says Boston. "His background and hands-on approach to everything in St. Albert made him more of a well-rounded professional than some others who I have worked with."
For accreditation reasons, St. Albert always had a city engineer on staff, but by the mid-1980s, Galye was named director of engineering, a position he would hold for almost 20 years. He was responsible for developing the city's engineering standards, for budgeting and for capital projects. Yet ask Galye, of all the asphalt and pavement laid down under his direction what stands out in his time with St. Albert, he talks about people.
"Every day was a challenge but I look at developing and grooming a staff that worked well together," Galye says. "They supported me well. There was never a time I felt isolated from them."
Demand an answer and Galye will grudgingly name two projects he remembers most – the widening of St. Albert Trail in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the ongoing project that was born from that – what would eventually become Ray Gibbon Drive.
"That's kind of my legacy because it's been there as long as I have and I'm still working on it," Galye jokes.
Officially, Galye retired in 2007, giving one year's notice to Boston. It was not for lack of desire or advancing age – he was 57 – but what Galye describes as recognizing he had brought the city as far along as he could with the skills he had. Ask him if he sold himself short and he shrugs.
"People say I did but I don't think so," Galye says. "At that time, I felt for my own health and welfare it was time to step down and let someone take it to the next level. I'd brought it to here and it was time to let someone (else) take it on."
But Boston knew Galye was not the kind to spend the rest of his years playing slo-pitch in the summer or squash in the winter, as he currently does. And so he asked Galye if he wanted to do some project management for "fun."
"I can see Seven Hills from my office and he lives there and I knew if I called and asked for his help, I'd hear the phone drop and he'd come running down those hills and be in my office," Boston said.
He was right and Galye's retirement lasted all of two weeks. Since then he's kept building Ray Gibbon Drive, kept building what parts of the city he can with all he has learned in 38 years.
"The fact that Larry stayed here for 38 years – and he had lots of opportunities to not – he truly does to this day make sure that everything he's been involved with is being built to last, to benefit St. Albert," Boston says. "He's the embodiment of St. Albert."