Mayor of Westport Michael Bruce likes to live by the words: “Do what you want to do and do it well.”
He seems to apply them to his lifetime of professions: logging, construction, education, broadcasting, politics and photography.
His white hair and beard are neatly trimmed on a recent morning when he is dressed casually in hiking boots, soft cloth pants, a t-shirt and a fleece vest seated in his airy and pleasant office in city hall adorned with photographs, cartoons and other mementos of his three terms.
Two out of his three post-graduate degrees were earned during his stint as mayor. He wanted to improve his governmental knowledge so he pursued an master’s business administration with an emphasis on human resources from the University of Phoenix and a master’s in public administration, from Strayer University. That is in addition to the master’s in speech he earned at Washington State University as a young man.
All that for a job that pays $500 per month. To him, the benefits of public service are great and worth the investment. He clearly enjoys being mayor and plans to run for a fourth term — there is too much left on his bucket list for the city left to do.
One of the cartoons on the wall depicts a much heftier Bruce at 553 pounds. He had to move in a motorized wheelchair. He lost 90 pounds in 70 days on his own. It wasn’t enough.
He read eight books about his options and chose bariatric surgery.
On Aug. 10, 2010, he had the surgery, dropping to a low weight of 302. He now weighs 318 pounds. Part of his stomach “will never see food again.” He has to drink a lot of fluids and make sure to consume “enough protein to make an Atkins devotee blush,” he said.
It annoys him that restaurants will not allow him to order small portions—his stomach can’t take much.
Old habits die hard and though he feels better, some days he has what he calls buyer’s remorse for having the surgery even though he feels better.
He misses crunchy food the most. Beer tastes good, though carbonation can be tricky. It’s hard to drink wine, too much sugar. He recommends liquid protein drinks from Costco in vanilla and chocolate, served warm or cold.
He walks when he can, but “the polio limp doesn’t make it easy.”
Bruce caught the virus as a six-year-old boy. His is the last recorded case of infantile paralysis in Skagit County.
His father had a fear of stories about people dying or being paralyzed by the vaccine so the five Bruce children were not vaccinated.
One morning, he awoke, felt feverish suddenly and couldn’t walk, Bruce remembers. The doctor put him on a table and he fell over. The doctor called in another in disbelief.
“You tell me how I caught it,” he said. But no one could. None of his brothers or sisters had it, no one at school did either. It was never determined how he was infected.
Their home was quarantined. Friends and neighbors left games and toys for the children on the doorstep of their home in Big Lake.
Left with the limp, he watched his brothers played sports. Part of his decision to study broadcasting at WSU was so he could talk about sports if he couldn’t play them.
He was the only one in his family to go to college. WSU Professor Remo Fausti told him he was “good at explaining things.” Fausti guided him to a master’s in speech so that he could teach.
After graduation, he went to work for his father’s logging firm and worked as a college instructor. He helped set up KSVR-FM at Skagit Valley College. He worked as a program director and taught radio for a quarter in the mid-1980s.
He discovered a lifelong passion for photography, studying under Lee Mann, a popular Northwest landscape photographer.
Bruce’s work has been published widely in the state. He never goes anywhere without his camera and shares his work with visitors to his office as well as 2,000 plus followers on Facebook. He also takes photos for Ocasta High School students who cannot afford yearbook photos.
He met his wife, Melissa or Missy, while working in the logging and construction industry. He stopped in for groceries at the deli where she worked. They have been married for 25 years, he helped raise her son and daughter. They have a granddaughter who is 26-months-old.
Then in 1995, the truck he was driving hit a bump on the road in what he calls a freak accident. His head slammed into the the truck’s interior roof. His spine absorbed the shock, he had a compression fracture in his back, and his right leg, the one affected by polio, was re-injured. The doctors told him no more logging or construction work.
He taught remediation and technology. Except for a year in Mansfield near the Grand Coulee Dam, the Bruces lived mostly in Concrete, where he served two terms on the city council.
He helped write virtual classroom parameters for video conferencing across the nine Education Service Districts in the state. Students could sit and learn French in a classroom on the network.
In the aftermath of the accident, he found himself angry. Feeling crippled infuriated him. Perhaps it resurfaced from childhood, he said. He sought help and worked on the anger.
Sometime around the millennium — he is bad at specific years he says — they moved to Westport where he was hired to work as the librarian and technology director in both the Ocasta Elementary and High Schools. It was a seven-day-a-week job. He retired recently.
He volunteered to help bring Timberland Library to Westport. He tried to volunteer for the city and found city hall closed off to newcomers, he said. So he challenged the incumbent mayor Berkeley Barker as an outsider. He ran and earned more votes than the incumbent in the primary in 2001. He ended up winning.
In 2010, the year after being elected to a second term as mayor in 2009, Bruce decided to run for county commissioner, a political job that pays considerably better that would give him a chance to work to help improve the area countywide.
Running as a Democrat, he lost in the primary. It is the one time he has lost an election.
As mayor, he prides himself on working with other mayors in the Grays Harbor Mayors Group. He is chairman of the Grays Harbor Council of Government.
“I have found Mayor Bruce to be unfailingly generous with his time, supportive, and genuinely helpful,” said Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler.
“It is a pleasure to work with him … We both find humor in county partisan politics knowing we serve all citizens of our city regardless of their political persuasions,” said Mayor Ken Estes of Montesano.
Indeed, Bruce said the only sleepless night he has had was over partisan angling within his own party.
He plans to run for mayor again in 2015, and is on the fence about running for commissioner in District 2 in 2016. He has that bucket list for Westport.
WESTPORT BUCKET LIST
Bruce praises team members at the city, such as Margo Tackett who is retiring in December and City Administrator Randy Lewis.
He wants to help develop more industry besides tourism in the area. He sees positive trends. The yacht company is hiring, there are new cold storage and production facilities. The Quinault Indian Nation just invested in a seafood processing plant.
Keeping business open year round is a struggle.
“We also desperately need a local grocery store to serve the needs of Westport and South Beach visitors,” he said.
There is hope after a long recession.
“(This year) will go down as probably the best charterboat fishing season of the decade,” he said.
Westport is a great place to start a business. Property prices are slowly edging up. He points to recently re-stained luxury homes and other residential enclaves just waiting for the economy to turn around. The general fund is slowly growing.
The city is putting final touches on improvements at Gar Baseball Park and more park upgrades are planned.
Bruce tours his town in his “beach rig,” a 1994 Chevy Blazer. He is proud of the new boardwalk, and the condominiums.
He spots an eyesore of an RV on Wilson Avenue and makes a mental note.
He drives atop tons of pounded sand barrier and the rock jetty that keeps the sea from eroding the beach. He’d prefer the more solid rocks of riprap to the sand, but he’ll take the federal government’s perennial effort to keep the sea at bay.
His photographer’s eye catches the wings of flocks of brown pelicans. He loves them and as if on cue, they take flight.
What is challenging about being mayor of Westport? “Every day is different.”
Erin Hart: 360-537-3932 or firstname.lastname@example.org and @DW_Erin on Twitter