PILOT ROCK — Virginia Carnes, the stalwart mayor of Pilot Rock, died Saturday, Jan. 8. She was 77.
The small town in Eastern Oregon may not have had a stronger advocate than Carnes.
She had lived in Pilot Rock since 1966, and retired as a teacher after 34 years, according to East Oregonian reporting in 2004. Carnes began serving on the city council in 1992 and ran for mayor in 2004. She won and had held the position since.
Carnes suffered health issues later in life, but she remained a vibrant political and civic force in the community. She helped oversee significant improvements in the city, including the installation of new sewer lagoons in 2019, a major undertaking for the city.
No one worked more closely with Carnes than City Recorder Teri Bacus, one of the former mayor’s biggest fans.
“The city of Pilot Rock has lost an exemplary public servant,” Bacus said. “Virginia Carnes was a great woman and touched many lives. She was highly respected and beloved by everyone. She took the position of mayor personally and always looked out for the best interest of the city of Pilot Rock. She dedicated her life to this city, and I was honored to have had the opportunity to work with her.”
Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock knew Carnes and called her “special,” and in his weekly address to public officials and others eulogized her.
“When we began publishing the Weekly Update 87 issues ago, it was primarily read by mayors, city managers, school superintendents, and other community leaders. While circulation has expanded dramatically, one of the most ardent consumers from Day One was Pilot Rock Mayor Virginia Carnes.
“That was typical of almost everything the tireless and dedicated cheerleader for that community brought to the table. If she thought a subject might impact her community, she was in the front row. In the days to come, we will see a long list of her accomplishments as we pause to honor her memory and pay tribute for her service.”
Murdock said when the east side mayors and managers met to discuss issues of mutual concern, Carnes was the first to arrive and her friendly greeting and enthusiasm for the task always put a positive spin on the meetings.
Public service is too often a thankless task, according to Murdock, and it seems to be getting more and more difficult to find individuals who are willing to serve. But Carnes was “the epitome of dedication and service, and I’m confident the citizens of Pilot Rock are both mourning her loss and very likely wondering who is going to be willing to fill her shoes,” Murdock stated.
In addition to her work on the council, Carnes was on the Pilot Rock Fire District Board, involved in the local chamber of commerce and the nonprofit group The Pilot Rock Downtown Association.
Bacus said the Pilot Rock City Council holds its first meeting of the new year Tuesday, Jan. 18. The council then will elect a president and decide what to do to fill the position of mayor. Carnes was in the last year of her current term and planning on running again.
The council could appoint someone at the meeting to finish out the term, Bacus said, but is more likely to open it to applicants.