Friday, November 24, 2006

Dawson is beyond labeling

Heather Dawson: Hailey city clerk, mother, musician, black belt

Express Staff Writer

Heather Dawson is known widely for her role as the Hailey city clerk. In her private life, however, she is also a passionate musician, black belt in the marshal arts and a mother of a 26-year-old son. Photo by David N. Seelig

In her professional capacity as Hailey city clerk, Heather Dawson comes across as a thoroughly knowledgeable and highly capable voice for the city.

As with most people, however, Dawson's professional life is just part of the picture. In a face-to-face interview, she revealed aspects of her private life not seen during Hailey public meetings.

Some of the details may surprise you.

This woman, who as the clear authority of Hailey city finance, is often called upon to clarify certain budget-related issues for the mayor and City Council, but she also has a black belt in the marshal arts.

It kind of puts a different spin on Dawson's mild-mannered persona as she calmly explains number-crunching city budget issues, doesn't it?

Between 1983 and 1993, Dawson and her husband, James Dawson, were the owners and sole operators of the Dawson Academy of Marshal Arts in Hailey. During those 10 years, the academy turned out a total of 10 black belts.

"That was a very fun time in our life," she said.

Something else people may not know about her is that she was one of the very last babies to be born in the maternity ward that once occupied a portion of the Sun Valley Lodge. The maternity ward was a part of the nearby Moritz Community Hospital, she recalled.

Family is a very important part of Dawson's life. Together, Dawson and her husband raised a son, Forrest Dawson, who now lives in Boise and is 26 years old.

"They're the root of my life," she said of her family.

The longest time Dawson ever lived away from the Wood River Valley was a six-year stint she spent living in Tacoma, Wash., after graduating from the University of Puget Sound. Dawson and her future husband actually met in Tacoma, she said.

They moved back to the area in 1985 after living for a year in Pennsylvania, and their first winter in Hailey was a magical one.

"Oh, it snowed a lot," she said.

After working for a while as a jury clerk for the Blaine County Judicial Court, Dawson was appointed in 1990 by then Hailey Mayor Keith Roark to be the city clerk.

Roark took a risk hiring her, she said. At the time she had very little experience for such a position.

"I think he took quite a leap when he appointed me to this job," Dawson said. "I'm grateful to him for doing that."

The Dawsons lived in Hailey for 17 years in the Woodside area.

Today, she and her husband live in a small cabin her father built on their ranch on Silver Creek between Picabo and Carey after the family's early 1900s farmhouse burned down during her childhood. Her parents still live in another home nearby. The family calls it the Povich Ranch.

Dawson's father, along with her mother, immigrated to the United States from their homeland of Switzerland. They came to the country for the express purpose of being able to purchase a piece of land.

Eventually, her father was able to purchase the 250-acre property, which he immediately set about working. "He wanted to be a farmer," Dawson said. "He also wanted to own his own land."

Growing up on the ranch was fun for Dawson and her five siblings, she said.

"We tried everything as I was growing up."

This included raising grain, trees and rabbits, among other things, she said.

The family also ran cattle on the ranch.

Working together with the rest of her family was fun, she said, and going to the mountains with her family to bring firewood back for winter was just one of the many things the family did together.

As their father cut the wood the six children would line up in a "daisy chain" and move the firewood into a trailer, she said.

"That was what life was about. That was what made it fun," she said. "It was an adventure."

In their spare time, Dawson and her husband enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and music.

In fact, James Dawson was the one who taught her how to play the guitar.

"James is a good guitar player and he's taught me to be a competent player, too," she said.

Dawson greatly appreciates the sense of community Hailey and surrounding areas have to offer. The city has a wealth of people who care about the community and are willing to volunteer their time to keep it the way it is and has always been, she said.

"I think this valley is still largely about raising children."

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