Pat McGrail has settled back into his old digs at Keller City Hall, a place of familiarity and comfort, where he can pick up unfinished business and continue building his legacy of service in the city he has called home since 1989.
First and foremost, McGrail is dedicated to keeping Keller the type of community that drew him and other newcomers in the first place.
For McGrail, 72, there is no place better to call home than Keller. And he should know.
After years of working as an executive for American Airlines, which had him and his family hopscotching across the country, McGrail acquiesced to his late wife Geri’s wishes and put down roots to give their three children a chance at a more normal life.
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“We never lived anywhere long enough to have to do any maintenance or even get the place dirty,” he says.
Geri McGrail didn’t have to push too hard because the vagabond life was a vast departure from the stability McGrail knew growing up as an only child in a loving, tight-knit family. The family lived in a steel town outside of Pittsburgh, Penn., and both his parents worked in steel mills. He lived in the same house until he went off to Penn State to study engineering. He transferred after two years to the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
With the decision made to settle down, McGrail took a position with American as director of maintenance for the western United States, including western Canada. With the responsibility of managing more than 1,200 employees, he had to do some traveling but he was finally able to put down roots.
He and his wife considered buying in Arlington and Colleyville but they preferred the quiet, rural feel of Keller.
Following a tradition passed down from his parents, McGrail dedicated himself to serving the community everywhere he lived. Keller was certainly no exception.
In 1991, he joined the Zoning Board of Adjustment. He then served on several other boards, committees and commissions, including the Parks and Recreation Board. Over the years, he also has been involved in a variety of other community organizations such as the Keller Chamber of Commerce, Keller Rotary, Christ Haven Children’s Home, Keller Youth Association, the Community Storehouse and the Longhorn Council of Boy Scouts of America.
His commitment to the city’s welfare led him to run for the City Council in 1995 after a bitter feud within the community over growth and the direction of the city. It was a difficult time for the city that resulted in the recall of the mayor and three City Council members.
Although he never had any ambition to hold elective office, he ran and was elected in the hopes of helping shepherd Keller back to a place of harmony.
McGrail served five terms (some for two years and others for three). Much had been accomplished during McGrail’s tenure on the council, including the addition of new residential neighborhoods, the development of Town Center and the addition of parks, trails and other amenities.
After an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2003, he stepped back and focused on his the final two years of his career with American Airlines. In 2005, he retired with 38 years of service.
Although departed from the council, McGrail was never really out-of-sight. He remained active from the sidelines, carefully observing city progress and tracking the temperature of the community for expensive capital improvements such as a new library. Old divisions over growth, development and spending rocked Keller again and McGrail saw it as his civic duty to run for office again.
He received overwhelming support in his 2007 bid for mayor. He went on to serve three terms in the city’s top elective office, shepherding the expansion of the Keller Public Library, construction of a new fire station of Keller-Smithfield Road, infrastructure improvements and cost-saving regional agreements with Colleyville, Westlake and Southlake for services such as jail, 911 dispatch, law enforcement, municipal court and animal shelter.
“I’m proud of this city and all that has been accomplished,” he says. “We have an excellent quality of life and outstanding public services like fire and police protections, parks, trails and so much more.”
But along with his many accomplishments and resulting awards and kudos for service and leadership, McGrail has also suffered several personal losses, including the tragic death of Geri, his high school sweetheart and wife of 34 years, due to a heart attack in 2009.
Then he was blindsided by his loss to Mark Matthews in his re-election of 2014.
“I was very disappointed but I was prepared to move on,” he says of the election.
With his friendly and outgoing manner, McGrail approached life with a cup half-full attitude. Within a few years of losing Geri, he married Pauline DellaSala, who was secretary at his church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. The two had never met in the 20 years his family attended the church. The two were introduced by the pastor and hit it off immediately.
And finally, last month he won a tight race for mayor by 49 votes against Rick Barnes and was sworn in for a fourth term.
But of all these blessings, McGrail is most pleased that all his children and Pauline’s children — six between them — and their grandchildren live in Keller.
We asked McGrail a few questions about why he ran again and his priorities for his new term in office.
Why did you run again?
I took the election (2014) personally and very hard. I had not been in City Hall for three years but I came by for the retirement party of Sheila Stephens (long-time city secretary). I started talking with Mark Matthews and asked him why he hadn’t filed (for re-election) yet. He told me ‘I don’t know if I want to.’ We agreed to have coffee together. I was going to offer to support him…but he ended up supporting me so I decided to run.
What is your top priority for your new term?
I want to end the divisiveness and bring everybody together. I want the council and the community to come together.
What is the cause of the friction?
It has to do with residential development. There are some people, especially north of Johnson Road, who don’t want to see any high-density development. They don’t want more rooftops. But there are others, young people, who want to be able to buy a home in Keller. We have empty-nesters who don’t want the big home and pool anymore. We need the right size homes for different types of people or they will be forced to go elsewhere.
What are your other priorities?
Economic development. I want to see high-quality commercial development. We especially need good quality restaurants so people don’t have to go Southlake or north Fort Worth for a nice dinner. We have some good restaurants here but we need more and it’s been a challenge to attract them. We still have available land along (U.S. Highway) 377 north of Keller Parkway, on the east end of Keller Parkway and on Rufe Snow. There is opportunity here for commercial development.
Tell us about your new job?
I’m a part-time courier for the federal government. I just sort of fell into it. There are only 16 of us in the United States. We take high value shipments to the different Federal Reserves. I’ve been going about two to three days a week. It’s all day trips. Now I’m planning to just fly one to two days.