The Knoxville Focus continues our series of interviews with interesting people in our area. Some are public officials and others are community leaders, volunteers, and people who are notable for their efforts in our area.
David Brace wears two hats for the City of Knoxville, as deputy mayor and as chief operating officer. Brace has a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee, was a firefighter and EMT with Rural /Metro and worked as a consultant in industrial rescue and safety. He began with the community development department 15 years ago and moved to the public service department before being named deputy mayor.
How is your position working for you?
The position of deputy mayor and chief operating officer (COO) is inherently a demanding and challenging role as most of the work/projects I focus on rarely fit into a “neat and tidy box.” The hours are long and often exhausting, but Mayor Rogero is an incredible leader and it’s an honor and pleasure to be a member of her executive team. She believes in collaboration, leadership and public process and we are fortunate she is in the role of mayor.
How does it affect your family, business or other interests?
The demanding nature of the COO position definitely requires active management and discipline in order to maintain a healthy balance. Gina (my wife) and I have three children (8, 12 and 14) so prioritizing tasks at work and being fully committed when I am with Gina and the kids is the real challenge. The COO position by nature is a 24/7 job so that is probably the most frustrating aspect for my wife and children. There are times when I have to step away from the family and address an immediate problem (phone call, e-mail, text, etc.). My phone sits by the bed at night and is with us on vacations. Fortunately, my prior life in emergency services as a firefighter and Gina’s career in women’s health as a labor and delivery nurse has us both well trained on the concept of being “on call.”
Tell me a bit about your family.
Gina and I have three children and live in the Island Home neighborhood. Our son Wyatt is 14 years old and is a freshman at West High School. Wyatt loves soccer and is a goalkeeper on a competitive team at Emerald Youth. Gianna (Gi Gi) is 12 years old and a 7th grader at Bearden Middle. She loves dance and is a member of the Appalachian Ballet, the organization that puts on the Nutcracker each year. Our youngest, Olivia, is 8 years old and is a 2nd grader at Beaumont Elementary. She’s also a dancer!
In addition to our kid’s activities we love to be outdoors, camping, hiking and traveling. My son and I also scuba dive and all our kids love to be in the mountains.
Where were you born and why Knox County?
I was actually born in Boston, Massachusetts, where my father was completing his residency. Both my parents grew up in California – my dad in Los Angeles and my mom in Sacramento. They graduated from UC Davis. My dad completed veterinary school at UC Davis and followed that up with the Boston residency. We then moved to Columbus, Ohio, where my father taught at Ohio State. He was recruited to Knoxville when the University of Tennessee started their veterinary program.
We moved here when I was six and I’ve absolutely loved growing up in Knoxville.
What are your hopes for the city or county?
Man, that’s a tough answer as there are many! But all of them are based on my desire that Knoxville continue to be authentic. My hope is that we continue to have authentic growth and focus on making Knoxville a great place for the people that live and work in Knoxville and Knox County first! If you make it great for residents, others will want to come and enjoy our community.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with four different administrations starting with Mayor Ashe, Mayor Haslam, Mayor Brown and Mayor Rogero. It has been a real pleasure to see our city stop looking for that one “destination attraction” that will “make” Knoxville something special. What makes Knoxville unique is our culture, downtown, the urban wilderness, the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee and Bijou Theatres, Market Square and the list goes on.
What is your main hobby or interest in your private life?
It’s funny, hobbies ebb and flow and I have a lot of them, although most of them are outdoor based. When I was young, before kids, I did a lot of caving, canyoneering, backpacking, trail running, scuba diving and mountain biking. Now that I have three active kids, much of my time I spent supporting their activities. I coach for Emerald Youth (my son plays on the team) and I’m often running my daughters to their dance classes. Gina and I also really enjoy traveling and camping with the kids.
What’s great is that as the kids have grown, I am now able to return to the outdoor activities I used to enjoy with my kids like hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, etc. It’s pretty cool to come full circle on some activities that I loved before kids and to now be able to do those activities WITH my kids.
What do you see as your main accomplishments in life?
A strong, daily relationship with God and my family. I also hope that my efforts in our community as an active volunteer and professionally in my work as a firefighter and public servant are seen as having a positive impact on Knoxville and Knox County.
How do you think other people see you?
My hope is that people view and respect me as hardworking, honest, caring and straightforward. That being said, I’m in a position that requires me to take on challenging and often contentious projects and/or issues. That’s not always easy and requires listening, patience and a good amount of instinct. I hope I am thought of as someone who is thoughtful and someone who is community-focused and not self-focused. I hope I’m seen as a hard worker and a servant leader.
If you had to do one thing over in your life what would that be?
Two things. I wish I would have done ROTC in college and I’ve yet to obtain my private pilot’s license.
What do you think of a metro-form government in the future?
Who and how we govern matters and I am all about systems of government that are efficient, equitable and provide for quality public process. It’s hard to discuss in detail with, well no details.
If you chose one thing in your position that is very satisfactory what would that be?
Working to support the mayor and her team in moving Knoxville forward in a collaborative, engaging public sector leadership. We have been fortunate over the past 14 years to have city and county leadership that is honest, collaborative and focused on the growth of Knoxville and Knox County over individual political gain.
What’s your favorite meal or place to dine?
I love to cook with family at home usually but if I’m going out, it depends. I like Naples as it is local and the owners live down the street from our family. Food truck scene is great in Knoxville and I’m a regular lunch goer at both Pete’s and Tomato Head. I regularly eat at Elkmont Exchange, Balter Beer Works and Sweet P’s! I also have to admit that I love Waffle House.
How would you like to be remembered?
Someone who lived a life focused on God and family and who was hardworking, honest, caring and straightforward.