By the time Chris Bailey taught his first class at Centralia College's main campus in the early 1990s, he'd already made partner at a law firm, become president of a gravel company and narrowly lost a race for a seat in the State Legislature.
But what began as a part-time instructor gig at a branch campus soon developed into a career in higher education for the Lewis County native.
"I just loved the teaching," he said.
Bailey, 50, was teaching a night class in business law when Lower Columbia College Board of Trustees Chairman Max Anderson called to offer a job as the college's next president last week.
"That might be the last class I teach," he said with a mixture of excitement and sadness during an interview Friday afternoon.
Bailey, a vice president at Centralia College, will become LCC's 11th president when he replaces Jim McLaughlin in September. Contract details are still being worked out, according to LCC officials.
Bailey's rise up the college ranks hasn't taken a typical path.
After receiving a bachelors degree from Western Washington University and a law degree from the University of Washington in 1985, he worked as a lawyer in Rochester where he handled a variety of civil cases.
In 1988, friends convinced Bailey, then 27, to jump into a crowded primary race for an open seat in the state House from the 20th District, which included Lewis County and southern Thurston County.
Running as a Democrat, Bailey reached the general election but ultimately lost to Republican Rose Bowman by 306 votes in a race in which more than 38,000 votes were cast.
A year later, while still practicing law, Bailey was asked if he'd like to teach a class at Centralia College's east campus in Morton. Intrigued, he accepted the offer, even though it meant commuting from Centralia to Morton for each class. Bailey eventually began teaching business law at the Centralia campus as well.
In 1991, after several years doing legal work for a sand and gravel business owned by his in-laws, Bailey was asked if he'd take over as the company's president.
While still teaching classes, Bailey served as president of Martin Sand and Gravel until the company was sold in 1994. He stayed on as general manager until 2005, when Centralia College hired him as vice president of human resources and legal affairs.
"We pulled him out of a gravel pit," joked Centralia College President Jim Walton. "That actually was a great training ground. They had all kinds of people who needed to be managed."
Walton liked Bailey's attitude and leadership qualities, and the president thought he'd be the right person to create a leadership development program for faculty and staff.
More than 100 employees, including many of the college's current deans, have been taught leadership by Bailey. This year, employees from other community colleges also are taking his classes.
"(LCC is) getting a pretty phenomenal person," said Walton, who added that Bailey's legal background gives him "the ability to mentally kick back and analyze a situation. He doesn't jump to any snap judgments, but he makes good decisions based on good input."
Bailey said he'll bring a conservative approach to dealing with LCC's budget. He said Centralia managed to avoid layoffs and cuts to major programs even though state funding declined over the past several years. The college was forced to cut about 10 percent of its full-time positions through retirements, he said.
Bailey warned that he sees another budget hurdle looming in the near future. He said colleges have absorbed state cuts in part because people who can't find jobs are choosing to attend school. When many of those students re-enter the workforce, Bailey anticipates an enrollment decline, which in turn could lead to more cuts.
LCC enrollment increased nearly 60 percent in 2007, and the college saw its largest enrollment ever in 2009-10.
LCC had 3,783 full-time students enrolled this year, and college officials say the school is educating nearly 50 percent more students than the state is funding. Like other community colleges, LCC has increased tuition to help make up for the state cuts.
Bailey visited the LCC campus in May, and he said he came away encouraged by the enthusiasm he saw from students and staff. He will become just the college's fourth president since 1969, said he plans to stay at LCC for at least seven years, and likely longer.
"For me," he said, "this could be how I end my career."