Last July, Georgia Lomax, a Sumner resident and executive director of the Pierce County Library System, performed a feat few people can master: She and a team of seven other sailors competed on a 46-foot sailboat named New Haven, traversing thousands of ocean miles between Victoria, British Columbia and the island of Maui.
The team finished third overall in the Vic-Maui, going up against more than 20 competitive sailing teams.
“You need to be in good shape to compete,” Lomax, 56, said. “Sailing is a mental game. There is a lot of strategy involved, paying attention and trying to guess what your competitor is doing. There are so many elements that aren’t in your control. You have to learn how to use those elements in your favor. It’s a puzzle and a game.”
During the Vic-Maui, fortunately, the elements were in the team’s favor.
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“The weather on the Vic-Maui was incredibly good,” Lomax said.
Last winter, Lomax and her sailboat teammate, Alexia Fisher, competed in the U.S. Sailing World Cup in Miami, a qualifying event for the U.S. Olympic sailing team. They finished well enough to be appointed to the U.S. Olympic development team, which basically qualified them as alternates.
For more than 20 years, Lomax has delved deeply into her passion for sailing, much like you would a good book.
In fact, it was a book that she checked out on how to sail, while working as executive director of the Flathead County Library System in Montana, which put her on this path.
“I started sailing in Kalispell, Montana on Flathead Lake,” Lomax said. “I always wanted to sail.”
During her time in Montana, Lomax came across a Venture 21 sailboat. She purchased it from a private seller. The people selling the boat were also getting into competitive sailing and were seeking out people to start a team.
“I bought a boat and checked out a book on sailing,” she said.
Two years later Lomax replaced her Venture 21 with a 25-foot Catalina sailboat called The Valkyrie. The name came with the boat and Lomax says it’s bad luck to change the name.
All this time while sailing competitively, Lomax has also enjoyed an award-winning and highly impactful career in managing library systems.
Lomax, named a “Mover and Shaker” by the “Library Journal” in 2010, joined the Pierce County Library System in 2006 as deputy director.
Last November, she was promoted to replace retiring director Neel Parikh. Lomax is the fourth executive director in the library system’s 68-year history.
Lomax docks her 25-foot Catalina sailboat at the Foss Harbor Marina on Tacoma’s waterfront. On any given weekend and many evenings she sails locally both leisurely and competitively.
Much of what is necessary in sailing is also applicable to managing the fourth largest library system in Washington state, she said.
“Being attentive, adaptable and flexible (like in sailing) is critical in library management,” the 56-year-old explained. “Sailing is also about teamwork. Libraries wouldn’t do what they do without great teams.”
Lomax is at the helm at a time when libraries everywhere are grappling with staying relevant in the digital age. She said her job moving forward is to work with the diverse communities of Pierce County to determine what individuals and families need to succeed.
“Libraries aren’t about the books, the computers, the help they provide,” Lomax said. “Libraries are about what you do with those things that we provide. The look of a book will change and evolve. Part of what is cutting edge is staying current on what’s out there.”
Much like a sailor must heed to the winds, the weather and the current, Lomax is doing the same at steering the library system — anticipating what’s coming next on the horizon, to ensure library patrons have the right tools for success.