EUGENE, Ore. — Lane County’s public health manager will retire Tuesday after nearly 40 years of service.
Lane County Public Health Manager Karen Gillette says she was interested in public health because it connects the community. That interest turned into nearly four decades of commitment as she worked her way up through the years.
“I think I’ve grown as a person more, I think as a manager more than I thought I could,” said Karen Gillette, Lane County Public Health Manager.
It all started back in 1973. Gillette took a secretary job with the county, but she soon realized she wanted to do more.
“I got my Master’s Degree from the University of Oregon in public health administration became a contract monitor for five years, and then I had the opportunity to be acting program manager for public health for nine months and decided that I wanted that challenge,” Gillette said.
She went back to school, while juggling her full-time job and raising her children. In 1995, Gillette became the public health manager for the county, a job coworkers say isn’t easy.
“When you have somebody stay in a department for that long, you know they take on duties that you didn’t really know that they did. And when they leave you say, ‘Oh, she did that. Oh, he did that. And then you say, ‘Now who’s going to do it?’” said Patrick Luedtke, Lane County Public Health Officer.
“I often said wow when I think about Karen. She really blazed a path for herself through our organization. Often times people think there isn’t a career path, and there wasn’t one laid out for her she really created that,” said Karen Gaffney, Lane County Public Health Director.
And Gillette hasn’t looked back since. She’s been the acting public health manager for nearly 20 years and has had a hand in the development of what Lane County Public Health is today.
“We were involved in getting women into prenatal care early on. Making sure that they had a physician at that time who would accept Oregon Health Plan. That was one of the critical pieces with the prenatal care that wasn’t set up before I came,” Gillette said.
Gillette says this journey has taught her a lot, but it’s time to start the next chapter in her life.
“It’s more a matter of kind of understanding the timing and listening to what other things are going on in my life,” Gillette said.
Gaffney says they’re going to be picky in their search to fill Gillette’s position. She says they do have a position ready to post, and it will be open after the first of year.