Woollett Aquatics Center

William Woollett Jr.— Irvine’s first city leader

A look at the man whose name welcomes visitors to Irvine’s world-class aquatics center

by Tracy Childs

He is a native Southern Californian and a decorated Korean War veteran. During a long and accomplished career, he served as the chief executive officer of the Transportation Corridor Agencies — and as founding city manager of four California cities. Irvine was one of them.

Forty-six years after moving to Irvine, William Woollett Jr., 89 — the city’s first hired official — still enjoys living here with his wife, Betty Jo.

“The biggest and most important thing to me,” Woollett said during a recent conversation at the couple’s home in Woodbridge, “is that the city has followed the Master Plan — the villages, the shopping centers, the parks — everything the plan called for.”

Irvine residents who are new to the city might know Woollett’s name mainly from the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center at Heritage Park, the world-class swim complex named in his honor in 2003.

But he is one of the most admired and effective leaders in Irvine’s history.

“Irvine’s reputation as a clean, beautiful and safe place to live, work and raise a family owes a tremendous debt to Bill’s leadership,” said Sally Anne Sheridan, Irvine’s former mayor who served on the City Council from 1984 to 1992 and has known Woollett since the early 1970s.

“It would be difficult to overstate the positive influence he has had on Irvine’s growth and success.”

Woollett was already a nationally admired city manager when Irvine’s original City Council hired him in January 1972, one month after residents voted to become Orange County’s 26th city.

His extensive experience in getting new cities up and running smoothly was too good for the city’s newly elected City Council to pass up. For Woollett, two things, in particular, convinced him he couldn’t pass up the job.

“One, Irvine was a clean slate. And two, we were dealing with just one major landowner, the Irvine Company,” which Woollett said significantly enhanced Irvine’s thoughtful community master-planning process.

Irvine’s accomplishments during Woollett’s tenure are too numerous to catalog in a single article. That very long list includes:

  • Creating the Irvine Police Department
  • Establishing Irvine’s nationally acclaimed system of parks
  • Passage of the landmark 1988 Open Space Agreement
  • The opening of the permanent Civic Center
  • Irvine’s leadership in establishing the Transportation Corridor Agencies

Irvine residents — including those who just moved here and those who’ve called it home for decades — continue to benefit from Woollett’s legacy of talented leadership.

William Woollett Aquatic Center