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Van Brocklin was a bold, tenacious servant

Johnson City Press • Sep 12, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Dr. Ralph Van Brocklin always wore cowboy boots — even in the operating room. The only time you’d catch him without them in public was when he was running.

How he found them so comfortable was beyond us, given that breaking in a pair meant suffering through the blisters. His explanation? He knew how to find good boots.

Van Brocklin’s signature style was a clue into the spirit behind the oral surgeon and articulate community servant whose professionalism was evident in everything he did. He always was ready to work, and work he sure did.

From the day he announced his intentions to seek a seat on the Johnson City Board of Education in 2007, it was clear that Van Brocklin would never treat part-time service as anything less than a full-time mission. He seemingly dedicated every spare moment to researching the necessary details of local and state governmental issues.

That attention to specifics sometimes caused tensions between Van Brocklin and others in local government. It also meant he carried on at times, but that garrulous tendency just showed how much he cared about his community.

Through his service on the school board and later the City Commission, including a two-year stint as mayor, Van Brocklin was bold and tenacious. He went out on a limb in 2014 when he pushed for a major property tax hike — as much as 60 cents was on the table. That effort failed, but he was on the winning side of a 3-2 vote when the commission added 25 cents to the rate a year later.

Such a vote normally would be a liability for a politician seeking re-election, but not Van Brocklin. Voters stayed with him in 2016, returning him for another four-year commission term.

And he still wanted to do more. Van Brocklin hoped to expand the scope of his leadership with his recent bid to join the Washington County Commission. Had he been elected, he would have retained his seat on the City Commission as a bridge between the two governments. We disagreed with that prospect, as we maintained that dual service on governing bodies limits the number of voices representing the citizenry, but we never doubted his convictions.

Unfortunately for Johnson City, Van Brocklin’s service ended Saturday with his sudden death. As we mentioned earlier, he was a runner. That’s what he was doing when he succumbed to an apparent heart attack Saturday.

Death is inevitable, we know, but when it comes unexpectedly with a personal or professional relationship, the spectre carries a deeper emotion. Our hearts go out to his wife, Deborah, and their sons Hunter and Mark, as well as the fellow community servants who spent hours working alongside him for the betterment of Johnson City.

His heart attack happened on the Tweetsie Trail, one of the signature community projects he devoted his time and energy toward completing.

Van Brocklin’s boot prints are all over Johnson City. The Tweetsie, Founders Park, King Commons, the new animal shelter and the renovated/expanded Science Hill High School are just a few examples how he left this town better than he found it.

He will be missed.

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