Guard head, Gardner aide Gregory Barlow was 'visionary'

Gregory Barlow, remembered as ‘Ramboesque,’ dies

adam.ashton@thenewstribune.comJuly 10, 2013 

Maj. Gen. Gregory Barlow, a distinguished Army helicopter pilot who became a close aide to Gov. Booth Gardner and led the Washington National Guard in a challenging period after the Gulf War, died on Inde-pendence Day. He was 74.

Friends in uniform call Barlow a “visionary” leader who guided the state Military Department through lean years while laying a foundation for collaborations between branches of the Armed Forces.

“He was way ahead of his time,” said retired Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, who succeeded Barlow as the state’s adjutant general in 1999.

Those who knew Barlow in his political life as Gardner’s behind-the-scenes aide remember him as a “Ramboesque” figure whose no-nonsense approach helped carry out the governor’s goals while shielding him from the fallout.

The late governor called Barlow “just phenomenal,” according to author John C. Hughes’ biography of Gardner, “Booth Who?”

Barlow’s “metabolism slows down under stress,” Gardner said.

Barlow left his mark on the state’s philanthropic scene, too. He led the Gardner family’s Medina Foundation for decades, seeding charitable efforts for the underprivileged throughout the region while demanding accountability from nonprofit organizations.

“One of a kind,” said Ron Dotzauer, who met Barlow during Gardner’s 1984 campaign for governor. “There’s so much about Greg Barlow. He never liked a lot of attention, and yet he did so many things that should have garnered the public’s attention.”

Friends remember the Ocean Shores resident as a smart, larger-than-life man who worked around the clock for Gardner and for the Army. He had a tough exterior but a warm heart.

“He had this military haircut, steely gray, piercing eyes,” remembered Gardner’s daughter, Gail Gant. “He could do that ‘fake mean’ so well. I remember being scared and then he was awfully kind.”

Barlow’s career in public service began in 1964 when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant though the ROTC. He served two tours in Vietnam, one as a helicopter pilot for Special Forces teams.

He joined the Washington National Guard in 1970 and flourished in the military while taking on greater responsibilities for Gardner. Barlow was chief of staff when Gardner was Pierce County’s executive in the early 1980s.

He served as Gardner’s finance director for the governor’s longshot 1984 campaign and continued to help Gardner behind the scenes. Gardner named him the state’s adjutant general in 1989.

Some of his ties to Gardner dogged him early in his 10-year stint as the state’s National Guard commander. The Army audited his work for the military at that time because he kept his full-time job for the Medina Foundation. It concluded he didn’t do anything wrong.

The News Tribune’s editorial board called the flap a “tempest in a teapot.” It noted that “people seem to be falling over themselves to praise this much-decorated Vietnam War veteran.”

Lowenberg at the time was Barlow’s top Air National Guard adviser. He remembers Barlow successfully fighting proposals that would have stripped an Air National Guard unit from Fairchild Air Force Base.

“He was absolutely masterful in pointing out the fallacies of the plan” and protecting the unit, Lowenberg said.

Lowenberg said he stayed close with Barlow over the years.

“It was poetic, a very meaningful way, that he passed away on July 4 because he truly did devote his life to public service,” Lowenberg said.

Barlow died of complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Eli, his daughter, Ona Steigenga of Snohomish, and his son, Eric Barlow of Bellevue.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m., Thursday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Covington. He is to be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646

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