Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

Clock finally winds down
Tomkinson rides into retirement sunset

A custom-made digital clock on John Tomkinson’s computer began counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds many months ago.

Tuesday afternoon it reached all zeros.

Time expired.

Retirement reached.

Tomkinson’s distinguished 34-year tenure at the Idaho Transportation Department, including nearly equal time in Right-of-Way and General Services, ended with a steady stream of friends and colleagues wishing him well Tuesday. It was a sendoff worthy of his many organizational contributions to the department. And worthy of the many close friendships forged along the way.

If colleagues in Planning had known how focused Tomkinson was on retirement, they would have built the countdown timer 30 years ago.

Not that he couldn’t wait to leave ITD. To the contrary, Tomkinson rarely took more than a couple of consecutive vacation days that he tacked on to weekends or holidays. That’s why he left Tuesday with about 40 days of annual leave that will extend his formal retirement date to November.

“We’ve planned to do this for 30 years,” he said. The plural “we” includes wife Judy who has matched John stride for stride, year for year, as a nurse in a private physician’s practice. They will celebrate three decades of marriage on Nov. 29. They have one son, Corey, who is a civilian intelligence specialist for the U.S. military in England.

“She has been a partner’s partner,” he said of his 30-year companion. They met in Lewiston shortly after he transferred to District 2 to secure right-of-way for a four-lane U.S. 95 that winds up a steep grade north of town.

When he accepted the promotion from right-of-way trainee in 1973, he hitched a small trailer containing eight cardboard boxes and a motorcycle to his red 1970 Plymouth Duster. By the time they left in October 1987, relocation to Star required a moving van and many trips with his horse trailer.

That’s been one of Tomkinson’s hallmarks. Use what you have today to build for tomorrow. While in Lewiston he and Judy acquired a dozen rental properties. They would capitalize on a good price, build sweat equity through repairs and remodels, and rent the refurbished units.

Property acquisition was a natural fit for a right-of-way specialist. And it proved to be a valuable skill when Tomkinson was promoted to warrant officer for the Idaho National Guard headquarters in Lewiston. He was responsible for all of the armories in northern Idaho, from Grangeville to Bonners Ferry.

During the apex of the Vietnam War, Tomkinson served as a supply sergeant at Air Force bases in Texas.

He brought those experiences back to Boise when he became manager of the General Services section. It included oversight for facilities, telecommunications, the printshop, mailroom and records management.

When he accepted the position, Tomkinson had a staff of 29. Through attrition and efficient management, General Services accomplishes more today than it did 17 years ago with less than half the personnel.

'Time is so precious, we have to get to the “do” part of the process. It has to be more than ideas. You have to be able to bring those services across the line; you have to be able to deliver.'

Another hallmark of Tomkinson.

He seemed to have a penchant and talent for saving time and money by implementing new processes. Three people now operate the printshop, down from seven when he arrived. The mailroom also operates with three employees when it previously had seven. The word processing center has been trimmed from five to one.

Tomkinson is not a “can-do” kind of person. He is a “will-do.” Not surprisingly, he has little patience for people who cannot translate concepts into action, ideas into applications.

“Time is so precious, we have to get to the 'do' part of the process. It has to be more than ideas. You have to be able to bring those services across the line; you have to be able to deliver.”

He serves by example. Under his leadership in General Services, Tomkinson helped:

  • Standardize and bring all of ITD’s telecommunications systems together into one statewide system
  • Revised state contracts for copy machines and provides a choice from among three vendors to get the most efficient systems
  • Assisted the Department of Administration in creating a guide for records management, including archive procedures and retention schedules
  • Converted more than 5 million Division of Motor Vehicles records into an indexed, digital system that makes about 2 1/2 years of records available on line
  • Stored as electronic images with indexes more than 3,500 highway plan sets, that cover virtually every highway segment in the state
  • Captured business documents related to those highway plan sets
  • Consolidated many ITD utility bills and reduced the number of separate payments to utility companies
  • Revised General Services processes to recognize and better respond to customers’ needs

A portrait of contrasts, however, Tomkinson is not myopically focused on improving business practices. Those who know him best know there are other intriguing interests below the surface.

A native of Meridian, Tomkinson grew up on a small dairy farm and developed a disdain for black and white cows. After graduating from Meridian High School in 1965 he escaped farming by enrolling in Boise State College. Six years later he earned a degree in marketing with a minor in economics.

Maybe you can’t take the farm out of the boy, though.

After moving from Lewiston back to the Treasure Valley, Tomkinson started helping neighbors in Star harvest their hay crops. Where there is need, there is Tomkinson with answers. One machine led to another. Now he owns three swathers, five tractors and two balers and offers full-service custom farming. In addition to the 120-180 acres of land that he either leases or owns, Tomkinson cuts and bales hay for about 20 customers. All are within about three miles of the home that he and Judy had built in Star.

Tomkinson served as general contractor for the construction project and did a lot of the finish work himself.

He spent about five years on the amateur rodeo circuit, competing throughout northern Idaho and eastern Washington in team roping events. Not far away, Judy participated on precision equestrian drill teams. They have traded saddle seats for lounge chairs, though. Tomkinson and his wife have attended most of the major rodeos in the west and recently joined a cadre of friends at the Pendleton RoundUp in Oregon.

In the summer, if Tomkinson isn’t cutting grass, he’s playing on it. A self-taught golfer, he carries a handicap of about 12. Despite his acquired ability, the retiring manager prefers to play for fun, favoring recreation over competition.

Retirement may provide more opportunities to play, but if he’s successful in his newest endeavor, golf will have to be between meetings. Tomkinson recently announced his candidacy for the Ada County Highway District board and began focusing energies this week on the nonpartisan November election.

He hopes election to the ACHD board and his three years of experience on the Ada County Planning & Zoning Commission eventually will lead to a seat in the Idaho Legislature.

Tomkinson envisions retirement travel that no longer includes congested State Street in Boise. But if he reaches his ultimate goal of working in the Idaho Statehouse, he’ll be familiar with the route. Only the last three miles of State Street leading to the Capitol would be new territory.

If there’s a faster, more efficient way of getting there, Tomkinson will find it.