Jerry Willey hopes to continue leadership role while spending time with family

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Jerry Willey served as Mayor of Hillsboro until December, and has lived in Washington County for 34 years.Former Hillsboro mayor Jerry Willey will run for to fill a vacant seat on the Washington County Commission next spring.

Willey made the announcement in a ceremony on Sept. 13 at Hillsboro Aviation.

Willey, who served as Hillsboro's mayor from 2009 to this January, will run to replace Bob Terry in District 4, the largest of the county's four districts. The seat is up for grabs in 2018 after Terry announced that he would run in a crowded race to replace Andy Duyck as county chair.

District 4 covers a wide swath of Washington Cointy, including Hillsboro, North Plains, Cornelius and Forest Grove, as well as Banks, Gaston and the communities of Gales Creek, Manning and Timber.

When Willey, 69, wrapped up his second term as mayor at the end of last year, it appeared he was headed for time with his family. He planned on watching baseball and playing golf.

But Willey's plans changed in December, after his wife, Judy, decided to donate a kidney to her brother, who was on dialysis.

"One of her kidneys was found to have cancer, and we never would have discovered it until too late," Willey told the Tribune this week. "Her willingness to donate a kidney to her brother actually saved her life."

Surgery came last December, and Willey settled in for several months of recovery.

"I was her nurse," Willey said. "I come out of being mayor and working all those hours and being gone a lot to now, [when] I'm at home taking care of my wife. It was a good transition. It forced me to not be active and engaged in other things; to spend time at home, and I did that."

Willey said his time at home — his wife broke her ankle a few months later, adding to her recovery time — allowed him to refocus and reprioritize his life.

Since December, Willey and his wife have been to baseball spring training in Arizona, visited their son and his family in New York City and spent more time with his daughter and her three children in Sherwood. But Willey said he still needed a connection to public service.

When he received word that Terry — who has represented District 4 on the commission for nearly a decade — would be running for chairman, his open seat on the commission seemed like the perfect fit, Willey said. He could stay in local government, but keep his calendar open for family and semi-retirement.

Willey said he's made efforts to reach out to mayors across District 4, including North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan, who spoke of massive population growth expected over the next five years. Willey has experience guiding Hillsboro through periods of growth — the city had less than 40,000 residents when Willey was appointed to the city council in the early 1990s. Hillsboro is expected to surpass 100,000 residents by the city's official count later this year.

"They need public transit, they need grocery stores, they need to have access to work, whether that be riding a bike or driving a car," Willey said of North Plains. "They're going through some of the same growing pains on a smaller level, but still big for cities of their size."

Hillsboro has grown considerably since Willey first served in city leadership in the early 1990s. He was part of efforts to support Bag & Baggage Productions, Hillsboro's local professional theater company; laid the groundwork for the Orenco Station development that bears his name; and was an early proponent of what became Ron Tonkin Field.

Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said Willey's time as mayor left him well-prepared to reach out on a county level, adding that Willey's strength comes from partnerships formed over decades of work in public service. Callaway succeeded Willey after several years working together as a city councilor.

"The things we do as mayors transcend city boundaries," Callaway said. "Whether it's the Joint Water Commission or working with the Westside Economic Alliance, there are lots of things that focus on Hillsboro and western Washington County."

So far, no challengers have emerged to run against Willey. Willey has never faced real competition for elected office. He was appointed to the council by former mayor Gordon Faber and put his name in the running for a second term, but won the seat without much — or any — campaign effort. During his two terms as mayor, he ran unopposed.

"This will be the first one," he said. "I've got a great team behind me already, and we'll go out and have some fun."

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