The mayor of Truckee awaits my arrival outside the cable car building in the Village at Squaw Valley. Mayor Carolyn Wallace Dee has worked in administration at the resort since 2005, a year longer than she’s been on the Truckee Town Council. She braces herself against gale force winds that appear out of nowhere, a fitting metaphor for a woman who has endured a mountain full of physical and emotional hardships with dignity, grace, and humor. We laugh at our matching colors — black pants and dark pink jackets — except her look is elegant and refined compared to my mountain casual. Carolyn is well-known for her sense of artistry in dress and accessories. She majored in history and art at San Francisco State University, has a large cedar chest filled with fabric swatches from her travels, and sews her own formal wear when the need arises. She also makes jewelry, oil paints, loves gourmet cooking, and even does her own landscaping. “I learned out of necessity, but I like that I solve it,” she said of landscaping. Carolyn turns on a mix of classical music that plays softly in the background — Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi — and we begin our conversation.

Moonshine Ink: First, let’s talk about your political life. You’re nearing the end of your second term as mayor of Truckee. What inspired you to run for local office?

Carolyn Wallace Dee: I had been going to council meetings when I moved here from the Bay Area because I wanted to get involved. I literally filed for town council on the last day. There wouldn’t have been an election because there were two open seats and two people running. People said I was crazy, that I’d never get elected because no one knew me. I told them I have to run, I have to try.

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MI: So that inner drive was in high gear right from the start?

CWD: I grew up feeling that you give back to your community. I will learn to say no some day. I co-chaired the capital campaign for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe. I also sit on the Nevada County Transportation Commission. I’ve done staging for the Truckee Fourth of July Parade, and was involved with the Lake Tahoe Summer Music Festival. I do Relay for Life. I wear my name badge at Truckee Thursdays. As a council member, you can be as engaged as you want in the town. I figure I wasn’t just elected for Tuesday night, I was elected for every day.

MI: What about your involvement in the Truckee Donner Railroad Society?

CWD: I helped found the organization in 2008, which is now a foundation. I got the three railroad cars that are in the rail yard — the rotary snowplow, the switcher engine, and the Pullman sleeper car — from the Sacramento Railroad Museum. I went into the rail yard one day and a man came out and asked me what I was doing. Turns out he was the head of maintenance so he showed me around. I love trains because of my father. He built HO model engines as a hobby. I walked up to the 7210 [rotary plow] and said, “I want her.” It was the snow blower that reached the City of San Francisco in 1952, which was stuck on Donner Summit for days. “I want to take her home,” I said. “She’s ours.” He told me to write to the board. They said they couldn’t give them to an individual, but they could give them in trust to the town for a future museum.

MI: I know you’ve had your share of tragic events. How did these impact your life?

CWD: Twenty months after my husband Joe died of cancer, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. That was 16 years ago. The first year I had five operations, the worst chemotherapy, and unbelievable radiation. By the time I got through I was almost a year into it, then I started traveling. I decided to spend every dime I had on travel. I’ve been all over the world, to six of the seven continents (not Antarctica). When I was in the outback of China, the eldest of my brothers was killed in a skydiving accident. I came home and did some serious thinking.

MI: Is that what led you from the Bay Area to Truckee?

CWD: At that point, my parents were very ill. On top of fighting cancer, I was dealing with their health. Part of the decision to come up here was the time that I was out of the immediate context of caregiving, I had piece of mind and time to heal myself. I stayed in my brother’s cabin in Truckee to get away. Then I sold my house and moved to Tahoe Donner. I haven’t traveled since I’ve been here. It’s almost like I came home. Dogs also changed my life. A friend gave me his yellow lab because he was allergic. I never had a dog of my own, then I adopted a little dog for him to play with and they are inseparable. I like to take them hiking on trails in Tahoe Donner. Shirley Canyon is gorgeous, the Five Lakes Trail out of Alpine. I love the quality of life and the outdoor lifestyle. And we can tell the big secret of all time: I do not ski.

Carolyn Wallace Dee recommended Kahlil Johnson of Riverside Studios and the CR Johnson Healing Center as the subject of the next Tahoe Stories.

~ Comment on this column below.

Author

  • Marianne M. Porter

    Marianne M. Porter earned her BA in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno; completed a certificate in creative writing at UC Davis Extension; and is currently working on an MFA in creative writing at Sierra Nevada College, Incline Village. She is married with two daughters in college.

    Connect with Marianne

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    10317 Riverside Dr
    Truckee, CA 96161

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