Goodhue community leaders remember Red Wing’s Paul Drotos: ‘The most gracious human I ever met’
Drotos, who died on Aug. 4, 2022, was known for his deep consideration of the environment and the people of Red Wing.
RED WING — Following a battle with cancer, former Goodhue County Commissioner Paul Drotos died on Thursday, Aug. 4 . He is remembered by colleagues as someone who was compassionate and cared about the environment.
“I think one of the words that I really want brought forth is his compassionate nature,” said Goodhue County Commissioner Linda Flanders. “The citizens of Goodhue County were in very good hands, really, with Paul Drotos. And I have to say that there really is a feeling of a real vacuum with him being gone.”
As a longtime resident of Red Wing, Drotos was involved in several community endeavors, such as serving on the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners. Flanders recalls how Drotos served as a mentor when she joined the board in 2019.
“He was an incredible mentor to somebody new,” Flanders said. “He was kind, he was generous with his time. He was very knowledgeable.”
Drotos served on the county board for six years and was named chairman of the board in 2020. He resigned in July due to his illness.
Commissioner Brad Anderson spoke to Drotos’ attention to the environment.
“I think Paul’s drive in his life was a lot of things around the environment, whether it was recycling, whether it was protecting waters,” Anderson said. “Any number of issues around the environment, sustainability and those things.”
Drotos’ interest in the environment extended to his work on the Great River Rail Commission. Starting in 2017, he played a role in securing state funding for a second daily Amtrak train from St. Paul to Chicago that stops Red Wing and Winona. GRRC Chair Trista MatasCastillo, who represents Ramsey County, said Drotos saw his work on the commission through an environmental lens.
“For him, passenger rail was really about meeting carbon goals and how do we reduce car miles and increase climate protections,” MatasCastillo said. “He brought that voice and that lens to the table all the way. He led with his heart.”
GRRC Commissioner Mark Vaughan added that Drotos encouraged his fellow commissioners to keep pushing toward their goals.
“Winona, for example, is going to get a big upkeep to their area where (the train) stops,” Vaughan said. “That was important, and Paul was the biggest cheerleader to make sure that we didn’t stop, that we kept the – no pun intended – train rolling forward here of getting this project completed.”
One of Drotos’ visions for the GRRC was to get all of the commissioners together to take a trip on the train. That vision became reality on Aug. 4 – the same day he died.
“Last Thursday, the whole commission finally got on the train, as was Paul’s vision. And then after we were on the train, Paul passed away,” MatasCastillo said. “I do believe that it was, in his mind, that we saw that through.”
In addition to his environmental endeavors, Drotos also showed his love for Red Wing.
“To anyone he could talk to, he shared stories about Red Wing,” said MatasCastillo. “He encouraged people to come visit. He talked about the environment and the great resources and was a huge advocate for getting passenger rail and improving the transit stop there to get more people to come see Red Wing because he really loved Red Wing and really celebrated all it had to offer.”
Drotos had been active in the Red Wing community long before his tenure as a Goodhue County commissioner. Back in 2005, Drotos started volunteering with the Goodhue County Habitat for Humanity. Former Goodhue County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Parker Quammen said Drotos got involved with a building project that received support from the Red Wing Lions Club, in which Drotos was an active member.
“We were having trouble recruiting a construction manager,” Quammen recalled. “Paul, who was a dedicated Lion, stepped forward and said, ‘Well, I will do it.’ … He saw the need and really just wanted to support this project.”
Once he became a county commissioner, Drotos continued to support local Habitat for Humanity builds through Lions Club fundraising efforts.
“He was very positive, very energetic,” Quammen said. “He was a great guy.”
And those in his professional circle let him know that.
“He just was the most gracious human I ever met,” MatasCastillo said. “I said this to him while he was alive, too. It isn’t just a grief afterthought. … He was always seeking to learn and always seeking to connect and grow with other people.”