Recipient Biography

Denis P. Galvin

Denis P. Galvin (1938-  ) received the Pugsley Medal in 1991. A South Boston native, Galvin attended Christopher Columbus High School in Boston before entering Northeastern University in 1955. While attending university, he was employed from 1956 to 1961 with General Alloy Company in Boston as a draftsman and designer, and after his graduation with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in1960, he was promoted to chief of quality control.
In 1961 Galvin joined the Peace Corps and spent two years as surveyor in Tanzania, East Africa, as one of the first class of volunteers selected for this new federal program. During his Peace Corps service, he worked and lived in such renowned national parks as Kilimanjaro, Lake Manyara, Serenghetti and Ngorongoro. His responsibilities included design, layout, and supervision of road and utility projects in the Northern Province, including the water supply at Ngorongoro Crater and the entrance road at Lake Manyara National Park.
Despite the exposure to national parks, Galvin had no thought of working for the NPS when he returned to the US. A chance encounter with an employment brochure for the NPS yielded the address of the Western Regional Office in San Francisco. It was one of about 70 applications he submitted looking for a job and a career, and it resulted in him being hired as a civil engineer in 1963 at Sequoia National Park. The connection with beloved landscapes begun in East Africa was being extended. Throughout his career, Galvin saw parks as being important in providing people with a sense of connectedness, “They protect our past, stabilize our present and provide hope for our future.” In his words, they became a life long affair.
Subsequent assignments saw Galvin serve as an engineer at Mount Rainier National Park (1965-67) and in the Southwest Regional Office, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1967-69). In 1969 he became an instructor and counselor at the agency's Horace M. Albright Training Center, counseling up to 24 park ranger trainees a year in their goals, performance, and evaluation of their success or failure as an NPS employee. In this role, he taught all facets of park management, interpretation, law enforcement, and national resources management.
Promotion in the NPS at that time required frequent moves, and in 1972,Galvin moved east to become assistant director in charge of park operations in New York State and New Jersey. In this role, he was centrally involved in the major land transactions and organization of the Gateway Recreation Area.
In 1974, when a new NPS regional office was established in Boston, Galvin became associate regional director for operations; and two years later, he became deputy director of the region. Among his accomplishments in this position was the opening of Ellis Island, and he was responsible for all projects related to the Bicentennial.
In 1978, Galvin moved to Denver to manage the Denver Service Station, and he remained there until 1985 with responsibility for the supervision of 600 employees; approximately 400 of them were architects, landscape architects, and engineers. The center oversaw most of the NPS's nationwide planning, design and construction programs, and Galvin's major contributions ranged from constructing a sophisticated sewage treatment plant at Old Faithful, to a passive solar design at Great Sand Dunes, to the world's largest photo-voltaic installation at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. At his urging, the service began removal of over 300 structures and related utilities at Giant Forest in Sequoia. The project was completed in 2003.
Galvin led the implementation of a service-wide priority setting procedure to make the best use of funds allocated by Congress for the NPS. He was responsible for reviews of concessions planning and designs within the national parks, and for compliance with cultural and environmental laws at national, state and local levels. He also directed NPS's international assistance to governments such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Colombia, and Guatemala, to study areas in those countries for the possible establishment of new national parks. He wrote and coordinated the publication and public involvement associated with the 12-point plan, which Bill Mott used as a blueprint to guide the future of the NPS when he became director in 1985.
In 1985, he was deputy director. In that position, he developed an action plan to implement Director Mott's 12-Point Program without major new budget initiatives. In the next two years, approximately 75% of the plan was accomplished. He also directed the first effort to systematically survey NPS's cultural and natural resources, an employee housing initiative, a program to celebrate the bicentennial of the constitution, and a planning effort to prepare for the quincentennial. In 1986, he led a delegation to the Soviet Union that resulted in 10 cooperative projects. One of them, a proposal to create an international park across the Bering Strait, was adopted at a Bush/Gorbachev Summit. His efforts also led to modernization of the entrance fee system, which allowed receipts to be used for support of park operations. As deputy director, Galvin served as acting director for approximately 50% of the time while the director was traveling.
Galvin returned to planning and design in 1989 when he was named associate director for planning and development, a position that also oversees the NPS's policy, information management, and land acquisition programs. In 1997, he accepted re­assignment to the deputy director's position, which he held until his retirement in 2002. In 2001 Galvin received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for exceptional achievement in the career Senior Executive Service. At the time of his retirement, Galvin said:
I never envisioned myself outside the agency. People sometimes say, “you've got the best job in the world.” My usual response is to respond by saying it is sometimes a lousy job, but consistently a privilege. The NPS is an important institution, and almost all of us who work for it feel privileged.
On a previous occasion, he quoted President Teddy Roosevelt, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing,” and Galvin observed, "That pretty well sums it up." Galvin was a professional 's professional.
Throughout his career he was a tireless teacher committed to instilling the philosophy of preservation of the nation's natural and cultural resources. He was sought out in the NPS by trainees and "the old guard" alike because he listened and provided wise counsel. He invariably considered, not merely heard, every viewpoint before rendering advice. In 1989, on the Senate  floor, Senator McCain of Arizona stated:
The American people have long prized the Park Service as a jewel among government agencies with uncompromising standards for excellence. The stewardship of Denis Galvin is one of the primary reasons that we hold this agency in such high regard. His commitment to the agency's mission, knowledge of the issues, creativity, dependability, and ethical standards reflected the best in public service. He has distinguished himself and is a role model to any young man or woman contemplating a career in public service.