GREENSBORO — Former local elected official and state Board of Transportation leader J. Douglas “Doug” Galyon died Sunday after a lengthy career in business, industry, community and public service.
Galyon, 88, put his most indelible stamp on the Greensboro area and North Carolina as an influential member of the state Board of Transportation from 1992 through 2008.
He chaired the board for more than half of his tenure, helping to make key policy and planning decisions that paved the way for North Carolina to push its reputation beyond the “Good Roads State” to success in other realms of transportation.
Former Greensboro mayor E.S. “Jim” Melvin described the man he first met when they were students at what’s now Grimsley High School as the consummate consensus builder.
Galyon was most of all an optimist, keeping a positive outlook even as his health declined precipitously in recent years, Melvin said.
“He knew the seriousness of his situation, but he was always positive,” said Melvin, CEO and president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation. “People like that cause you to want to work together. That was a real asset.”
When Galyon left his Board of Transportation seat 10 years ago, former state transportation secretary Lyndo Tippett highlighted that same quality in Galyon’s contributions to a deliberative body that controls billions of dollars in projects touching the lives of every state resident.
“He’s kept this bunch of board members working together,” Tippett said at the time. “And as you might imagine, there are a lot of egos around that table.”
In 2004, the city of Greensboro took note of Galyon’s accomplishments by naming after him its one-time, dilapidated rail station that has been redesigned, restored and reborn as a multi-modal terminal for trains, bus services of all types and other ground transport.
He not only helped shepherd the J. Douglas Galyon Depot to fruition, but also worked to breathe life into the regional transit program that would become the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation and to make steady progress putting the Greensboro Urban Loop on a path to completion that’s now envisioned in about two years.
“It will make us one of the best medium-sized cities with a highway system second to none,” Melvin said of the Urban Loop.
Melvin said that Galyon also was instrumental in early deliberations by state Department of Transportation planners leading to Piedmont Triad International Airport’s taxiway bridge over Interstate 73 that will open up hundreds of acres for aviation-related development.
“That’s ... a huge asset to the whole region,” Melvin said.
In addition to serving on the Greensboro City Council and Guilford County Board of Commissioners prior to his appointed transportation post, Galyon played key volunteer roles in such civic programs as the Greensboro Sports Council, Greensboro Jaycees, Guilford College Board of Visitors, the Greater Greensboro Open, the Greensboro Coliseum Commission and others.
Former GGO chair and site-selection expert Mike Solomon considered Galyon both a friend and mentor, a person without whom the annual event now known as the Wyndham Championship never would have reached its current level of success as a PGA Tour event.
He leaned on Galyon throughout efforts in the late 1980s that led to what was then the GGO landing Kmart as a sponsor and securing a spot on the CBS television network’s broadcast schedule, Solomon said.
“I’m an engineer, not a businessman,” Solomon said. “If it weren’t for Doug, we wouldn’t have had those things.”
Describing Galyon as “my unofficial daddy,” Solomon said that he advised his sons as they grew up “to find someone like Doug Galyon has been to me.”
Galyon was the 2000 recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Considered the state’s highest civilian honor, it’s reserved for those who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through service and achievement.
A celebration of Galyon’s life is scheduled today,Tuesday 2 p.m., at Christ United Methodist Church on 410 N. Holden Road — the congregation where he had been an active member for 60-plus years.
The service is expected to be packed with people whose lives Galyon helped to make better in one way or another, Solomon said.
“Somebody said to me, ‘You think your church can get everybody in who will want to be there?’” recalled Solomon, also a Christ United Methodist member. “I said, ‘Well, the balcony will be full.’”
Galyon was a native of Knoxville, Tenn., who moved to Greensboro with his parents as a teenager to graduate from what was then Greensboro High School in 1948 and Guilford College five years later. After service in the U.S. Marines, he had a decades-long career as an executive in the textile industry.
Galyon made his mark in textiles as right-hand man to the late Guilford Mills chief executive Chuck Hayes, a transplanted New Yorker with a volatile personality that Galyon helped counterbalance.
Their 30-year affiliation led to Guilford Mills’ transformation from a small, regional manufacturer to a massive operation with a $1 billion balance sheet before it lapsed into bankruptcy as the bottom fell out of what had been one of the region’s bedrock industries.
Galyon was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of 48 years, Anne Rudd Galyon; daughter Susan Galyon Spangler; son-in-law Timothy James Spangler; and brother Nathaniel Bacon Galyon.
He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Rachel Hull Galyon; son James Douglas Galyon Jr. and wife, Gaye; grandchildren Benjamin Thomas Spangler and wife, Lindsey; Jacob Douglas Spangler and wife, Caitlin; Elizabeth Spangler Pulliam and husband, Spencer; James Douglas Galyon III and wife, Katey; Daniel Thomas Galyon; and by three great grandchildren, Thomas James Spangler, Palmer Bailey Pulliam and William Benjamin Spangler.
He is also survived by stepson Maurice Hull and wife, Laura.
The family will receive friends in the church Fellowship Center following today’s Tuesday celebration of life.