MONMOUTH — Herb Whittier takes the small notebook from his pocket, flips through the pages and begins rattling off the dates that each man in his crew went to work for Monmouth Public Works.

Whittier, who retired Friday 37 years after taking over the public works department, said the book doesn’t have the name of every person who has ever worked for him, but it has a lot of them.

“So I’d know,” he responds when asked why he keeps the book. “It’s a habit I got into. If someone needs to know something, it’s right at my fingertips.”

Those who know Whittier say you would have to look long and hard to find someone who loves the town more. The men who work for him love to gently tease their boss, all the while displaying an affection that leads you to believe any one of them would gladly lay down in traffic if Whittier needed them to. Town officials scratch their heads to find anyone upon whom they could more rely or did their job as well.

“He’s the best boss I’ve ever worked for,” said Bruce Balfour, who has worked for Whittier for 18 years and has been hired to replace him as the public works director. “Nothing rattles him. He’s been doing this so long nothing bothers him.”

Deputy Treasurer Mary Mead, who developed a close friendship with Whittier during the 35 years both worked for the town, said Whittier, even at 69, puts in more hours than the 40 used to figure his salary.

“He’s so dedicated and meticulous,” Mead said. “He follows through on things. If he finds it’s not what it should be, he looks into it.”

Whittier, who still lives across the street from the Tillson Road home in which he grew up, went to work for the public works department in September 1969 after his discharge from the Air Force. Whittier’s brother, Roger Whittier, who continues to live in that house across the street from his brother, was working for the town in 1969 when he helped Herb Whittier land the job with the public works department. Herb Whittier served as an equipment operator and laborer until leaving for a year in the mid-1970s to take a job in Massachusetts. He returned to town and the public works department before being made the director in September 1977.

“I never dreamed I’d be here this long,” Whittier said. “I don’t regret it. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”

Pauline McDougald, who worked with Whittier for 39 years as a town employee and then as a selectman before retiring last year, said Whittier’s savvy has saved the town untold money over the years.

“The town’s in wonderful shape,” McDougald said.

Town Manager Curtis Lunt said Whittier’s ability to focus and recall have marked his tenure as public works director.

“His personality is really even keel,” Lunt said. “He’s a people person.”

Whittier was never one to hole up in his office. He was always the one there beside his crew, digging ditches in the sweltering heat or in the seat of a plow truck in a blinding snowstorm.

“He doesn’t delegate the work,” McDougald said. “He works with the men every time.”

“He was there with us,” agreed Ben Smith, who worked with Whittier for nine years. “He is a leader.”

Balfour said his appreciation for Whittier’s work ethic is even deeper since trying to come to grips with the load of paperwork the director is required to complete.

“I don’t know how the hell he had time,” Balfour said.

Lunt said Whittier is a throwback of sorts. He is what people think of when they think of a traditional Mainer: honest, resourceful and hard working.

“They just don’t make them like that any more,” Lunt said. “He doesn’t see it as work. He looks at it as a chance to do some good.”

The years of work have taken a toll. Whittier said some have tried to urge him to work a few more years, so he could claim 50 years of service. The number is unimportant.

“My body’s telling me,” he said. “I still feel pretty good, but I’ve got aches and pains all the time.”

Whittier’s sister, Betsey Deisinger, who flew in from Wisconsin to help her brother celebrate his retirement, has been concerned about her brother’s welfare.

“I’ve been kind of pushing him,” she said. “He’s ready to retire.”

Lunt said he hates to lose Whittier so much that he tried to convince him to stay.

“We tried to make his stay forever,” Lunt said, chuckling. “We even named the transfer station after him.”

It is no accident that Whittier chose early November as a retirement date. Last winter was a struggle, and the thought of facing another was too much to bear. Still, Whittier chuckled when he woke up Friday morning to a layer of snow on the ground.

“It’s my last day, and someone gave me a boost for the last time,” he said. “He’s either trying to tell me to go away or don’t go away.”

Whittier fielded the usual calls from school and town officials wondering about the roads. He and his crew went to work early to clear the snow.

“I’ll miss the guys,” Whittier said. “I won’t miss the phone calls.”

Whittier, concerned to the end, tried to extend the weekend of his tired workers by sending them home at 10 a.m. Friday, but he grew confused when they all hung around the shop off Academy Road. An hour later those men, escorted by a Monmouth Police cruiser, gave Whittier a ride home in a parade of plow trucks. For maybe the first time his men can recall, Whittier’s emotions got the better of him.

“This blows me away,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good employees. You just talked to some of the best.”

Whittier’s sister-in-law, Tracy Whittier, said the tribute was a way of repaying some of the kindness her brother-in-law has shown over the years.

“He’s taken care of the crew, and now they’re going to take care of him,” she said.

Roger Whittier said his brother has also taken care of the town. The town’s roads and equipment are in great shape, Roger Whittier said, but perhaps Herb Whittier’s crowning achievement is transforming the town dump into a transfer station that other communities have tried to model.

“He’s some proud of his town,” Roger Whittier said. “It shows in his work and his crew.”

Herb Whittier will join Deisinger and Roger and Tracy Whittier in Florida later this month. The Whittiers have two other siblings, including Nellie Goulette and a brother, Arthur Whittier, who died in 2006. While in Florida Herb Whittier will play lots of golf and enjoy spending time with his family. For the first time in nearly a half-century, he will not have to think about 3 a.m. phone calls, how much sand and salt are on hand, and whether he can get another season out of a plow truck.

“He’s really earned this,” Roger Whittier said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]


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