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“The Remarkable Dwight Ink” – A Leader in Public Service

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stacey Mann
March 13, 2015

One of the tragedies of public service is the sheer number of unspoken heroes. So many public servants spend an entire career and lifetime, ensuring that Americans are safe and secure, but, unfortunately, are never recognized for their efforts. However, the tragedy here is not so much the lack of recognition of the person, but rather that the personal characteristics that make them strong leaders are not shared with others. However, we do know that effective leaders, especially in public service, are tenacious, courageous and passionate.

One such leader is Dwight Ink, who is currently president emeritus of the Institute of Public Administration and a former ASPA president. Ink not only dedicated his life to Americans, but also to ASPA, and on Sunday, March 8, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) recognized his lifetime commitment to American public service.

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As tagged in a recent book written by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary, “the remarkable Dwight Ink” is a man who has always been known for action. He has held impressive leadership positions in many agencies, including the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, and the General Service Administration. In addition, he has worked closely with seven presidents. For example, under President Johnson, Ink led the Federal Reconstruction and Development Planning Commission for Alaska, while under President Reagan, Ink served as director of the Community Services Administration.

For those of us interested in emergency management, Ink’s career is important for many reasons. According to the United States Geological Survey, in 1964, the second largest earthquake on record occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The 9.2-magnitude earthquake was followed by multiple tsunamis, all of which resulted in 131 fatalities and estimated damage of more than $300 – $400 million. The earthquake’s destruction to the infrastructure of Valdez was extensive and was almost sure to happen again. The federal government, with Ink as the project lead, decided the town should be moved 4 miles south.

Dr. Donald Moynihan, associate director of the LaFolette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, emphasized two important points about Ink’s impact with this project. First, as the leader of the reconstruction of Alaska, he was able to accomplish the feat in a time period that engineers and others said was not possible. Second, the relocation of Valdez was one of the first acts of federal government mitigation. Instead of re-building a town that would again face terrible tragedy and destruction due to earthquakes, they mitigated the problem by moving the town itself. Thus, it is evident that Ink’s progressive thinking and focus on action rather than reaction characterize him as one of the nation’s founding fathers of mitigation.

In 1964, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not been created. As Moynihan observed, a national response plan was not in existence so some of the success of the project was due to Ink’s personal qualities of creativity, innovation and drive. Emergency management students, scholars, and practitioners should acknowledge is leadership skills and innovative approaches as pivotal to United States history.

These qualities highlight the second reason that Ink is important to the discipline — he possesses the traits that are necessary for every leader, especially those in emergency management. In the decision to move the town south, Moynihan noted that part of the success of the project was Ink’s dedication to transparency as well as his determination to be inclusive to all who wanted to be heard. At the heart of the matter was one man’s drive to ensure the community would be safe and that future suffering would be minimized.

Of course, not everyone agreed. David Limardi, former president of the International City/County Management Association who also spoke at Sunday’s panel, argued that one quality that every leader should know and understand is that with change comes conflict. How one handles that conflict also determines how effective he or she is as a leader. In this situation, as well as so many others, Ink excelled.

At the age of 92, “the remarkable Dwight Ink” is quite humble about his remarkably successful career. Before the panel began, the panelists mentioned a slight change in the purpose of the day’s discussion, which would focus more on the work of effective leaders and today’s obstacles rather than Ink’s career, to which he responded, “It will be a much more interesting topic.”

With that humble response, it is clear that Dwight Ink is a public servant through and through. Although he may not realize it, his lifelong dedication has had significant, positive impacts on more people than he will ever know. His humility is the true essence of a public servant.

Thank you, Mr. Ink, for your unwavering dedication to make life better for all of us.


Author: Dr. Stacey Mann is an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Management at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. Her email is [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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