San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans)

CA: SamTrans Reflects on Jim Gallagher’s Role in Peninsula Public Transit

Jim Gallagher, the fifth employee ever hired by SamTrans when it was formed in 1976, passed away at his Redwood City home on May 29. 

Gallagher retired in 2004 from his role as assistant general manager.  Throughout his 28 years,  he was a fixture at the district as a mentor to many, a confidant, a consortium-builder and a master of countless tasks and responsibilities.

In the wake of his passing, SamTrans employees are offering their condolences to Gallagher’s family and reflecting on his many contributions to Peninsula public transportation.

“At a time when many public entities approached the public uneasily, Jim embraced public participation and was convinced it always led to a better outcome. He worked so closely with the operating side of the house, spanning the traditional gap between administration and the people who put the service on the streets. And he was fun – quick-witted, congenial, always with a funny observation or a pet nickname for a project or an issue,” said Chuck Harvey, San Mateo County Transit District deputy CEO, operations, engineering and construction.

Mr. Gallagher grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and first moved to the San Francisco Peninsula as a student at Stanford University where he met his future wife, Nancy Fick.   They married in 1952 before Mr. Gallagher reported for duty as a United States Marine, later serving a tour of duty in Japan.

He and his wife returned to the Peninsula in 1956 when Gallagher accepted a job as a sports reporter for the Redwood City Tribune.  Mr. Gallagher would go on to win several writing awards thanks to a writing style often described by admirers as lively and entertaining, distinctive enough to need no byline to identify the author.

SamTrans was formed in 1976 to consolidate the 11 municipal transit agencies serving the Peninsula into a single unified county-wide service.  The new district’s founding General Manager John Mauro tapped Gallagher to head up its public information efforts, where his knowledge of the community and his ability to forge relationships proved invaluable.

Gallagher would go on to become a District leader helping to shepherd in the extension of BART service south from Daly City, the transition of the Southern Pacific commute service, now known as Caltrain, to local control, managed by the San Mateo County Transit District, the coordination of county-wide bus services and the formation of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, created following a vote to levy a half-cents sales tax for transit and transportation improvement projects.

“Jim was a very special human being with an incredible talent for bringing people together and a genuine interest in those around him,” said Michael J. Scanlon, San Mateo County Transit District general manager/CEO. “I came to the Transit District from Florida and Jim’s knowledge of the District’s history and the community made my transition so much easier. Like so many He was a dear friend who will be sorely missed by me.”

Gallagher loved sports and often played tennis with co-workers.  Even after his retirement he would turn up at the District’s rooftop tennis courts to play a game with his former colleagues.

In his retirement, he said he would just “take a breath” and take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with his wife of 62 years, Nancy, his three children Rob, Kevin and Kathleen and four grandchildren, Jennifer Gallagher and Turner, Ramsey and Landon Baty. 

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