Richard "Dick" Trudeau (1920-2004) received the Pugsley Medal in 1990. He was born in Tracy, Minnesota, but his mother moved the family to Seattle after his father died when he was only three years old. He lived the rest of his life on the west coast. The leadership and initiative which he exhibited throughout his life in all his roles was manifested in his formative years. He was a student leader both at Queen Anne High School in Seattle, and subsequently, at the Montezuma Mountain School near Los Gatos, California, which he attended on a scholarship. While in high school, he was the first national president of the Junior Statesmen of America organization, and he founded the Junior Statesman program in the state of Washington.
Trudeau was a campus leader in his years (1938-42) at the University of Washington where he chaired the university's International Relations Club, serving as the national president for twoyears, and organized the northwest region's student programs on world affairs. He began his career in Seattle by working for several newspapers and coaching the Queen Anne Junior Legion baseball team to the state championship.
In World War II, Trudeau initially served as a private first class in a military police battalion. Subsequently, he became a special assistant to a colonel with responsibility for editing the Fort Lawton (Washington) newspaper and raising funds both for programs at the Fort Lawton Hospital and US war bonds. When he was honorably discharged as a limited servicemember in the army, he went back to college, receiving a scholarship from the Maxwell Graduate School at Syracuse University, New York, from which he received his M.S. degree in Public Administration in 1945.
Upon graduation, Trudeau was hired by the US State Department as American vice consul to Denmark, where he worked with the Danish State Radio and was involved in administrating scholarships for Danish applicants to US universities. He worked with musicians and symphony conductors in Copenhagen, and was responsible for instituting the first free children's concert conducted at the Danish State Radio symphony by former Seattle conductor Karl Kruger. When he returned to the US, he was assigned to Indo-China, but rather than go there he resigned and taught political science at the University of Washington. In 1951, he used his network of contacts to organize a Scandinavian Music Festival. It was attended by 20,000 people at Seattle's Volunteer Park, including the state's governor and senior senator, and was subsequently transmitted to the Scandinavian countries by the US Information Service. This led to the organizing of similar major ethnic concerts, including one at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and to him being sent to Europe by the Liberty Radio network to do programs there.
This work also led to his recruitment by the United Bay Area Crusades as public relations director for Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, where he received the coveted Silver Anvil award for public relations from the Public Relations Society of America in 1962. During this period, he worked with William Penn Mott (Pugsley Medals 1972, 1982, 1988), who was then superintendent of the Oakland city park system. When Mott moved to become general manager of East Bay Regional Park District in 1963, he asked Trudeau to join him as public relations director for the park district. Here, Trudeau worked long hours to achieve a successful public vote supporting the annexation of Contra Costa County into the regional park district. When Mott went to Sacramento to become state park director, Trudeau was appointed to succeed him as general manager at East Bay in 1968.
As general manager at East Bay, Trudeau was following both his mentor and a legend. Mott was credited with energizing the park district and institutionalizing organizational changes that brought it into the modern era. Trudeau expanded dramatically upon this legacy. In his 17-year tenure as general manager he, in tum, became a legend and a mentor to many professionals. He led by example and inspired many others with his vision, innovations and single-minded focus. During his time as general manager, which was subsequently referred to as "The Trudeau Era," the district grew from 19 parks and 20,000 acres in 1968 to 45 parks and over 60,000 acres in 1985, while visitations increased from 6 million to 11 million over the same time period. He emphasized the importance of gaining public access to shorelines and establishing a regional trail system modeled after those he saw in Europe.
Perhaps the most impressive outcomes of his leadership were the acquisitions of over $35 million in gifts and grants to the park district and East Bay voters passing with 68% approval a bond issue for $225 million, which was the largest local bond issue ever passed in the US. His skill in organizing successful large bond issues for parks was widely recognized. He also chaired the statewide bond issue campaign (Proposition 43) which authorized $100 million and was a key player in subsequently passing Proposition 70 which authorized $776 million for parks and conservation. Post-retirement, Trudeau worked for passage of Measure AA, a $225-million open space bond issue for the park district that was approved by voters in 1988.
Among the innovations that Trudeau introduced while at East Bay which received national attention were:
- Founding of the Special District Forum in 1972, the first time special districts in parks met to exchange ideas and programs. These were subsequently annual meetings.
- Initiated the first nonfederal park foundation for East Bay in 1967-68.
- Developed the first "Adopt-A-Park" program in 1979, as a response to the fiscal constraints of Proposition 13.
- First local park agency to hire lobbyists to aid legislation in Sacramento (1968) and in Washington DC (1972).
- First local park agency to hire female public safety officers.
- Advocacy of emphasizing the importance of economic benefits associated with parks, exemplified by commissioning an economic benefits study of East Bay in 1978.
Trudeau was especially concerned with establishing a strong financial base for the park district. He had worked with Mott and state legislators to obtain a five-cent tax override in 1963; and in 1971, he teamed with a local assemblyman and the Alameda County Supervisor to help pass AB 925, allowing the district a 10-cent tax increase for parkland acquisition, development, and operation.
In summary, during his tenure at East Bay, Trudeau brought parks to a new level of importance and prominence in the eyes of citizens. He raised the bar for excellence in park planning and management through developing the district's first master plan in 1974, which set the standards for subsequent master plans; and he built relationships between the park agencies and the private sector which increased public support and funding for parks through local park foundation programs, and innovative local and state legislative initiatives and other programs.
When Trudeau retired, an editorial in the Oakland Tribune lauding his contributions commented:
When Franklin D. Roosevelt died, many Americans feared the United States would crumble. When Walter Cronkite left CBS, countless TV viewers wondered if the news would ever be the same again. When Richard Trudeau announced his retirement last spring, the park district board of directors reacted similarly. 'It will be impossible to get along without you,' the outgoing general manager was told.
Without Trudeau's relentless advocacy and political skills, it is doubtful the district would have grown from 19 parks and 20,000 acres in 1968 to its current 45 parks and 60,000 acres. It forms a greenbelt cherished by Bay Area residents and envied by park and recreation experts throughout the nation.
Trudeau's single-minded drive to save large chunks of land from development was smoothed by an engaging manner and a ready smile. Where someone else might have fallen off the tightrope he walked between open space advocates and land-hungry developers, Trudeau said cheerfully, 'I know we're doing the job when both sides are mad at us.' Trudeau leaves a legacy that will endure like the land he loves so well.
Trudeau was a champion of parks and recreation throughout the country. He made hundreds of presentations at seminars and conferences, and taught others how to be effective advocates with local, state,and national legislators. His appointment as the only professional to be a Senior Advisor to the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors (1985-87) was indicative of his eminent reputation in the field.
After retirement in 1985, Dick Trudeau continued his activities on behalf of the field, remaining involved in assisting East Bay's funding and legislative efforts and on the boards of a multitude of organizations in the Bay Area, elsewhere in California, and nationally. He continued to receive great satisfaction from helping others and furthering the goals of parks and conservation. He believed there was a strong correlation between those who have invested a lot into their career with those who have received most satisfaction from it. He observed, "Why just retire and ruminate? If you enjoyed something, if you can make a contribution, then as the Nike commercial commands,'Just Do It!'"
The retirement project that meant most to him was probably his work as pro bono executive director of the William Penn Mott, Jr., Memorial Foundation. He launched the foundation in 1992 with a mission to preserve Mott's legacy of public service to parks and recreation. He worked tirelessly to establish the Presidio National Trust (the Presidio was Mott's final project); to fund exhibits and establish the acclaimed Mott Visitor Center at the Presidio; and to fund the biography of Mott, published by NRPA. He was driven by a passion to honor the memory of his mentor, friend, and inspiration with whom he worked for so many years.
His successor as general manager at East Bay, Pat O'Brien (Pugsley Medal 2003), stated "Dick Trudeau was a giant in his field, internationally respected. He led the profession in advocacy for parks from Washington to Sacramento and especially locally." It was appropriate in 2003 that Dick Trudeau's contributions to East Bay were tangibly recognized by the park district's board of directors renovating the building where he worked for 22 years and renaming it the "Richard C. Trudeau Training Center."
Hallissy, Erin. (2004, November 27). Richard Trudeau-Led expansion of East Bay parks. San Francisco Times.
Pfrommer, Katherine. (2004, November 27). Former East Bay regional parks chief dies at age 84: "Dick" Trudeau was advocate for open space. Oakland Tribune.