MISSOULA – John Engen, Missoula’s longest-serving mayor, died Monday of pancreatic cancer, city officials said. He was 57.
After winning his fifth term in November 2021, Engen announced in March that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had a tumor on his liver. His death was announced in a news release by city spokesperson Ginny Merriam.
Gwen Jones, president of the city council, has been appointed interim mayor until a new mayor can be chosen, Merriam said.
Engen led with humor, strength and grace, Jones told the Missoulian.
He was “an amazing mayor who brought this town forward and turned into a city,” Jones said. “The creative, beautiful Missoula that we all know and love.”
One of Engen’s major accomplishments was using the city’s power of eminent domain to acquire the water company that served the city. The years-long legal case cost the city millions of dollars, but Engen and the city council said the long-term benefits of owning the water utility would outweigh the purchase price and legal costs.
Engen won his fifth term last year in a campaign focused on the city’s affordable housing and homelessness challenges, the Missoulian reported.
After revealing his cancer diagnosis, Engen said that he had “high hopes that treatment will extend my life so I can continue the service I love among talented, committed colleagues and the community. I’ve got a long list and hope to make my way through it.”
In late June, Engen presented a 2023 budget proposal with an anticipated 12 percent tax increase to help meet inflationary increases and pay for programs that had been funded with federal COVID assistance that was no longer available.
Engen was a Missoula native who graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in journalism. He worked at the Missoulian newspaper and also owned two businesses, KGVO-AM reported.
He was a member of the Missoula City Council for four years before he was elected mayor in 2005.