Published online: Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015 Print: Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015
PORT ORCHARD — Dolores Gilmore bought a typing book for a quarter at a yard sale not long after she moved to Kitsap County with her two children in 1984.
“I got here and I thought, ‘I need to learn to type.’ I never took typing in high school,” said Gilmore, who graduated high school in 1972 and never earned a college degree.
As a divorced, single mother, she took a temporary job in a welfare work program with the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office and taught herself to type.
Thirty years later, she was elected auditor.
Gilmore defeated Republican Kelly Emerson in the November election to replace retiring Auditor Walt Washington, walking away with nearly 53 percent of the vote.
Gilmore has worked in all four divisions of the auditor’s office — elections, licensing, records and financial services — and spent the last 20 years in the elections division, most recently serving as elections manager.
“Her story is not like any other,” Washington said.
She never envisioned running for office when she took the temporary job with the county.
“I was just like everybody else,” she said. “I was just trying to get the bills paid.”
She needed a job close to the house she was renting with her 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, because her car wasn’t always reliable.
“I knew I could ride my bike or walk and still get to work, even if the car didn’t start,” she said.
The job was part of a welfare work program Gilmore joined. She had three options — the auditor’s office, the school district or the hospital. The auditor’s office was her final choice because it was the closest to her house.
After spending time overseas and in Florida with her now ex-husband, who was in the Navy, Gilmore had made her way back to Washington in 1983, following the divorce. There were few jobs in her hometown near Vancouver, Washington, and she had two young children to support.
“They had just closed down the Alcoa aluminum plant. There were a lot of plants that closed down,” Gilmore said.
One of her brothers in Tacoma urged her to come up north.
When the temp job with the auditor’s office ended following the 1984 presidential election, a part-time job opened up in the office’s licensing division. Gilmore got the job and was able to pick up extra hours helping in the elections division.
At that point, working for the county wasn’t just a job. She enjoyed it, she said. She even described it as fun.
She worked in licensing for about a year before getting a full-time job in the recording division in 1986, where she worked for several years before she became supervisor of that division.
“Through all of this, there is one thing that’s really great to be said about Kitsap County, it’s that if a person really applies themselves there are so many training opportunities,” she said.
She took advantage of all the training she could and even bettered herself by participating in 4 1/2 years of Toastmasters to improve her public speaking.
“It’s a dedication to getting the job done and doing it the best you can every day. That’s just who she is,” Washington said. “She was pretty shy when I first got there, and I pushed her to go to the commissioner chambers and present her own budget. Once she got comfortable speaking in public, meeting people and giving presentations she got really involved. She has grown a lot.”
Gilmore grew up on a farm as the eighth child of 12 in Battle Ground.
“In my family, when you turned 16 you got a job and started paying rent. That’s just the way it was,” she said.
She had a job in a nursing home and later another selling cowboy hats and saddles. But even when she got her first formal jobs, work wasn’t new to Gilmore.
At 7 she would get up and ride the “berry bus” to pick strawberries and blackberries in her uncle’s fields. She started cooking family meals when she was 13.
“Part of cooking is groceries and planning, figuring out what you are going to serve,” Gilmore said. “Well, there was a lot of people in house, with my sister and her husband at the time, and mom and dad, there was about 13 or 14 people. So, when you made a mistake it was a big mistake. When you made pudding and burned it, it was like a gallon of milk. There was a learning curve to that, but I liked it because I could cook whatever I wanted.”
Her childhood on the farm prepared her for time in Scotland, where she gave birth to both her kids.
“We lived in this little cottage up with the sheep,” she said.
While it sounds romantic, it really wasn’t, Gilmore said.
Her husband stayed on base and she stayed in the cottage with the kids.
“I’d be up there, there’s no phone, there was nothing. Your heat was coal or paraffin heaters. There was electricity, but it was a shilling meter, so you would put in coins and if you ran out of coins the electricity went off and that was it. They’d come around and empty (the meter) and you’d have to have enough money to buy back the coins,” she said. “It was pretty rustic, but I was raised on a farm, so I adjusted.”
While Gilmore is often described as a hard worker and an analytical thinker, she also has a creative streak.
She writes poetry and has an impressive green thumb.
Kitsap County chief deputy auditor Winnie Flores-Logan describes Gilmore as being both left- and right-brained. Analytical people are often described as left-brained and artistic people as right-brained.
“I don’t know anybody quite like her,” Flores-Logan said. “It’s more than a garden, it’s a farm. She grows everything and there was a time she had her own livestock.”
The garden is at her home that she and her husband, David Gilmore, built together. They will celebrate their 30-year anniversary in May.
Gilmore’s creative side also has helped her come up with several improvements in the auditor’s office during her 30 years there.
“So often in government things change and people add a layer, add a layer, add a layer and pretty soon it’s crazy. When a new thing comes in you look at it to see how can we fix it without adding another layer on,” she said. “You change it, you don’t add to it.”
During her time in the auditor’s office, the county has been at the forefront of providing military, overseas and disabled voters access to ballots.
The county was not only the first in the state to implement online ballot access for military voters, it went beyond basic state requirements, winning a national award.
The county could meet requirements for military voter access by attaching a PDF to an email. Overseas military voters can’t always open a PDF and don’t always have access to a printer, Gilmore said, so the county provides online ballot access through its website.
Gilmore has helped lead several improvements in the auditor’s office, and most of the changes were her ideas, said Washington.
“I was never satisfied with just staying where I was at,” Gilmore said. “I would look and say, ‘OK, I can improve here. How can I improve?’ I’d look at different areas of a job to see what can get better. And that’s the part I have always really enjoyed.”
While Gilmore never planned on climbing the ranks in the auditor’s office, she had ideas and wanted to make changes that weren’t always easy or possible to initiate at the lower ranks.
“That was always the pull for me,” she said. “To make it better.”