All across the city of Columbus on Saturday, citizens were bracing themselves for a blow from a winter storm that was set to arrive on Sunday and Monday.
But a different kind of blow landed in our community Saturday as news began to circulate of the Saturday morning death of Columbus Light & Water General Manager Todd Gale.
The details of Gale’s death are few. All that is known officially is his body was found around 10 a.m. on Togo Road in south Lowndes County, a few feet from his abandoned truck and a couple of miles from his home. Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death.
But it is what is known about Gale that we consider now. That is what matters most and why our community is so rocked by the news of his passing.
During his time as the leader of the city’s primary utilities provider, Gale developed a reputation for competency, enthusiasm and cooperation, a man whose devotion to his duties was beyond question.
News of his death was almost immediately followed with recollections from those who had dealt with him on some matter or another. Some common threads emerged from all those reminiscences.
First was his competence. Gale may have been quiet by nature and never one for self-promotion, but when he spoke, his words carried the weight of expertise. He was always prepared to answer questions thoughtfully, incisively. He knew his stuff.
He will also be remembered for his open-minded enthusiasm. Whether it was a request from Main Street Columbus to help run lights along the top of downtown buildings or the school district and housing authority advocating for CL&W to offer broadband internet service in poor city neighborhoods, Gale always seemed to be looking for a way to say “yes.” And it was always the kind of “yes” that was fiscally responsible and above reproach – no shady deals or skirting the rules.
It’s much easier to say, “no,” of course because it never requires anything of you. The status quo is always a soft and safe place to land. Gale didn’t choose that path of least resistance, which is a credit to his work ethic.
Finally, whether it was a homeowner, business owner or the mayor, Gale was accessible, willing to listen and listen respectfully. Even from a position of superior knowledge, he was never known to condescend.
By all these qualities, it was obvious Gale loved his job, his employees and – yes – his customers.
CL&W will have a new general manager. In the interim, the department’s Comptroller, Mike Bernsen, will run operations. Bernsen also has a reputation for competency, which is comforting.
But as we try to process Todd Gale’s passing, we struggle to imagine a permanent replacement who can rival what Gale has achieved on our behalf.
His passing is first and foremost, a terrible tragedy for his friends and family.
But it is also a heavy blow to the city of Columbus and its residents.
In his honor, let’s all consider ways we can responsibly say “yes” more to the people in our lives. He set an example of what all can be done with that approach.