Nevada County’s ‘Citizen of the Year’ Bill Drown left lasting legacy |

Nevada County’s ‘Citizen of the Year’ Bill Drown left lasting legacy

Willard “Bill” Drown — who made his mark on Nevada County by working with more than two dozen nonprofit agencies, as well as by founding the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council — died Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 77.

Drown ensured his legacy would be a lasting one, friends said.

In 1999, Drown founded the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council, which has donated more than $1 million in equipment and training to local first responders. He later expanded his altruistic work to include other public safety agencies like the Nevada County Fire Safe Council and the Rüdiger Foundation. He also volunteered with the Grass Valley Police Department for nearly a decade, logging more than 3,000 hours.

“Folks are always kidding me about being on so many boards — but just about every board I’m on, Bill was a former board member,” said Marty Lombardi, who currently serves on the board of the Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council. “There are folks in the community that have made the community a better place because they’re in it. Bill not only made the community a better place, he made all of us better people by his example. Some people just raise all of us up.”

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard called Drown’s impact on the community “tremendous,” citing not just the council but also Drown’s service on the Measure N Committee that funded law enforcement and fire services, as wells as parks and roads, for Grass Valley.

“His leadership will benefit generations to come,” Gammelgard said. “He had a passion for first responders, but he also had a passion for people and making other people’s lives better in whatever way he could.”

Fellow Rotarian Mary Anne Davis, who nominated Drown successfully this year for Rotary’s Citizen of the Year and The Union’s Citizen of the Year awards, agreed.

“All the things he did in pursuit of doing good in the community were really impactful,” she said. “He was the warmest, sweetest, kindest man — he just had such a big heart and loved the community in a way that was very special.”

Drown also made his mark on Nevada County in a quintessentially quirky way, when he began appearing on the route of the annual Turkey Trot fundraiser, armed with his trademark smile and a big sign offering free hugs.

Turkey Trot founder Mike Bratton said Drown got the idea to stand out near the Sierra College roundabout, and give people a smile and a hug, about eight or nine years ago.

“This community is going to miss him,” Bratton said. “He was just a wonderful giving man for as long as I’ve known him … He set up a good pattern, a good example for people to follow.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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