Jack Lynch, chief executive for Butte-Silver Bow County during the 1990s, died Wednesday in Spokane after a brief illness. He was 70 years old.
He was remembered Thursday by former colleagues in state and local government as a smart, articulate, tenacious, and can-do chief executive who cared deeply about Butte and helped shepherd key infrastructure projects during his 10 years in the role — including helping the city-county assume ownership and control of the Butte Water Co., establishing the Belmont Senior Center, siting a new landfill, and encouraging economic development at the Port of Montana.
Butte’s decrepit water system, which had been acquired in the mid-1980s by Missoula industrialist Dennis Washington, had been a major impediment to economic development.
Lynch also worked to ensure that Butte-Silver Bow’s interests were considered as the EPA, the Atlantic Richfield Co., and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality sparred about how to address Superfund sites tied to past mining and smelting contamination.
In 1991, Lynch hired Jon Sesso as planning director. On Thursday, Sesso, now the county’s Superfund coordinator, remembered his former boss as a tireless advocate for Butte.
“Jack was a results-oriented guy,” Sesso said. “And he stuck with you when decisions were not always easy or the popular choice. He fought hard to make sure the right things happened for Butte.”
Sesso added, “Thinking back on his tenure as chief executive, really, I can’t think of a more productive decade for Butte, at least from a local government perspective.”
Jack Lynch’s son, Democratic state Rep. Ryan Lynch of Butte, said his father recently came down with pneumonia and that a pre-existing lung condition worsened its impact. He said his father had been hospitalized and the family had expected him to recover. He had turned 70 in mid-January.
Jack Lynch, a Butte native whose father was a union truck driver, was first elected chief executive for Butte-Silver Bow County in 1990. He won re-election in 1992 and 1996 and opted not to run again when his term ended in 2000.
Ryan Lynch said his father spoke fondly of his tenure as chief executive.
“He used to always say that was the greatest job he had, serving the greatest community, the greatest people,” he said.
Don Peoples Sr., 79, who was Butte-Silver Bow County’s chief executive for nearly 12 years, serving before Jack Lynch’s tenure, said Lynch was “Butte through and through.”
“He was a very aggressive guy,” Peoples said. “He was a guy who got things done.”
Among the things Lynch helped move forward:
• Working with MERDI, the Montana Economic Revitalization and Development Institute, to acquire the Butte Water Co. and invest in a multi-million dollar upgrade.
• Establishing a new landfill under the control of local government instead of the private sector.
• Renovating the hoist building for the Belmont Mine to create the Belmont Senior Center, a project that encountered a fair amount of opposition in its early development.
• Establishing Butte’s Tax Increment Financing Industrial District, or TIFID, at Ramsay and Silver Bow, near the intersection of Interstates 90 and 15, encouraging economic development.
“Jack really embraced the transportation/crossroads strategy,” Sesso said. “He believed in the Port of Montana and secured funding for expansion.”
He said Lynch vigorously pursued connections with railroads, including Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Montana Rail Link, to facilitate growth of the Port of Montana.
Before becoming chief executive, Lynch worked as executive secretary for the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. He had previously worked as a probation and parole officer in Butte.
Butte resident Jack McCormick’s career working in corrections for the state began as a probation and parole officer in Butte. McCormick, now 66, eventually served as warden of the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.
On Thursday, McCormick described Lynch as “a good ol’ Butte Democrat” — a fundamental orientation that McCormick said “defined Jack’s career and his compass” as an advocate for Butte-Silver Bow County and its residents.
“He never forgot a face,” McCormick said. “He never forgot a name. He treated everybody like a million dollars, and they felt like they were treated like a million dollars. He was a good ambassador for Butte.”
He said Lynch was not afraid, as a leader, to take a stand.
“You don’t make friends all the time when you lead,” McCormick said. “I don’t think he shied away from tough decisions, and that truly is the definition of a leader.”
Bill Melvin, 58, general manager of the Butte Civic Center and a member of the Butte-Silver Bow council of commissioners from 1996 to 2002, shared similar observations.
“Jack was a great leader, and he would not shy away from adversity,” Melvin said. “If he was behind something, he made sure it got done. He wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out.”
Matt Vincent, a former chief executive for Butte-Silver Bow County, described Lynch as an influence on his career.
“He was immensely passionate doing what he thought was best for Butte,” Vincent said Thursday. “That rubbed off on me.”
Jack and Paula Rotar Lynch had three children. Paula, a former school teacher and principal in Butte, and the children survive. Ryan lives in Butte, and his sisters Erin and Maura live in Seattle.
Ryan Lynch said his parents moved to Spokane after Jack landed a job in city administration there in 2001. He eventually became deputy mayor.
Yet Ryan said his father’s affection for Butte remained steadfast.
“Butte’s not like anywhere else in the world,” he said. “He loved Butte.”