“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mohandas Gandhi

Eugene “Gene” Bui’s life can be summed up in two words: public service.

Gene began his career in public service as a police officer and probation officer in the Redding, Calif., area. Known as someone who always gave his all, he was named Man of the Year in Redding in 1960.

Wife Madeline “Maddy” Bui remembers Gene’s commitment this way: “He loved politics and really liked to work with people, especially children. Gene was very magnetic, congenial and very energetic,” she chuckled. “He didn’t mind the attention, either.”

In 1968, Gene moved north to Astoria and took a job as the Clatsop County Juvenile Court Director. Mike Lawless, who now resides in Tillamook, worked under Gene in the Juvenile Department and has this recollection about him: “I recall he was a good teacher, especially in training his staff. He had a lot of experience in juvenile work in California and he was very good at passing along the experiences he gained in the field working with juveniles.”

The Rose City was Gene’s next stop, where he worked as administrative assistant to Multnomah County Commissioner Dan Mosee before returning to Astoria in 1976 at the request of Commissioner Hiram Johnson. As a Clatsop County administrator, he was involved in building the Clatsop County Jail.

His daughter, Tena Cagwin of Astoria, recalled her dad’s devotion to public and community service. “He was passionate about helping others and staying involved in the community. He also volunteered with a lot of organizations. He liked to participate and be active, but he also liked to have fun.”

A very fitting way to have fun, and appropriate given Gene’s dedication to anything public, was his passion for fire stations and fire trucks. Tena recalled his pride when displaying his ribbons for driving his fully-restored 1929 fire truck in the 1976 Astoria Regatta parade. “He liked fire trucks. We always had to drive by the fire station when he heard they got a new pumper or aerial ladder truck. We’d drive by so he could look at it, even take his picture in it. He was always talking about fire trucks.”

With the building of the jail behind him, Gene moved back to Portland and worked for the state of Oregon before starting his own criminal justice consulting firm. His clients included the Portland Police Bureau.

Returning to Multnomah County government, he accepted a position as justice system coordinator and executive assistant to the Board of Commissioners.

Gene later moved eastward to Troutdale, where he was appointed to the city’s budget committee, and then later appointed to the Troutdale City Council. In 1992, he was elected mayor of the small town.

Paul Thalhofer, who was a fellow commissioner on the Troutdale City Council at that time, remembered Gene fondly. “Gene was a good friend of mine and he was a good city councilor. He had a great personality with a good sense of humor and was very easy to get along with. He was also a very smart and sharp young man. He was an all-around good guy.”

Gene felt community service was just as important as public service. He was a board member for the Troutdale Historical Society and Gresham’s Salvation Army advisory board. He also taught jazz in the Reynolds School District.

Tena remembered his love of music. “He liked music and he liked to dance. We did a lot of dancing. He would show me certain dances or we’d play our instruments. He played trumpet and drums and I played violin. He was a big fan of Chicago, Chuck Mangioni, Blood, Sweat & Tears ... a lot of the brass type music.”

Gene often played gigs at clubs such as the Elks and Eagles lodges. While in Portland, he played with the Miller Genuine Draft One More Time Around Again Marching Band.

Maddy also recalls Gene’s love of dancing. “We didn’t dance those little slow dances, we danced! And it didn’t matter where we danced, people would recognize us; they always called us ‘The Dancers.’ Of course the women loved to dance and they would come up to me and say, ‘He’s such a wonderful dancer, does he have a brother?’ We used to dance five times a week.”

It was while Gene was at Troutdale that tragedy struck. Gene developed a nonmalignant brain tumor, his second in eight years, and it left him legally blind and unable to fulfill his duties, forcing him to retire from public life.

But Gene’s challenged vision never stopped him from participating in life, as Thalhofer recalled. “We had an annual parade in Troutdale called the Summer Fest and Gene always drove his fire truck until he couldn’t see well, and then he’d sit up front while somebody else drove.”

Gene remained committed to whatever community he lived in. Throughout his later years, he was an active member of the Elks, Moose, Lions and Knights of Columbus. Prior to that, he helped create the Teen Center in Redding  and took an active role in serving on committees for the Shasta Union High School District and Retired Senior Volunteer program. Daughter Tena summed up her dad’s commitment succinctly. “I think he would like to be remembered for his accomplishments and service to the community.”

Maddy believes Gene will be remembered as the generous dedicated man he was. “He always wanted people to like him. He’d go out of his way to have them like him, and he was always fighting for the underdog. He always tried to be the best he could be.”

 

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