Public Works Director Richard White will proudly tell you that he "worked his way up through the pipe" to get to his position, a job that he will be leaving on Aug. 31.
The Massachusetts native -- his still-strong accent quickly betrays where his sports allegiances lie -- first came to work for the town in 1985, and his first day on the job at the sewage-treatment plant coincided with the onslaught of Hurricane Gloria.
"I worked 24 hours straight," White said. "Some of our pump stations were without power."
And from that eventful start, White became only the second director of Fairfield's Department of Public Works when in 1993 then-First Selectman Jacquelyn Durrell appointed him to replace the long-time director, Frank Daniels.
"I'm proud of that," he said.
White said he first broached the subject of retiring about eight months ago, but First Selectman Michael Tetreau asked him to stay on for a bit longer.
White, 65, moved to Connecticut in 1972, and first started working for a cable television company, where he eventually became the vice president of operations. He later returned for a while to Massachusetts, where he worked for a private company that ran water-treatment plants for municipalities.
"I wanted to get back into this type of work," he said.
White has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, a master's degree in environmental engineering from Northeastern and earned an MBA from the University of Connecticut.
In all his years with the town, especially those spent at the helm of the public works agency, White said he is most proud of being able to promote department employees to key positions.
"To see people move up the ranks, that's what I can't say enough about," he said.
White manages the town's largest department, with the exception of the school system, with a $21.7 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year and a staff of 108 full-time employees and 12 part-timers.
He said the department has an "extremely strong management team" and makes efficient use of its work crews. There are no "turf wars" such as those found in other municipalities, he said, where management of parks, public works and vehicle fleets might fall under three separate departments. Crews work where they are needed, White said, adding, "It's a very good model."
White said he's also proud of some of the projects that took place during his watch, including the upgrade of the sewage-treatment plant and the construction of the new Penfield Pavilion.
"I'm not out there constructing those things, but I like being able to move the paperwork and the projects forward," White said.
He said the job does require a major time commitment.
"You spend a lot of time at night meetings," White said, but even that didn't really bother him, other than the time it took away from family life. "You watch the direction of the town being made by some very conscientious people. I never looked at it as a burden."
The town is in the process of interviewing candidates for White's position, and he's been serving on an interview committee with counterparts from Westport and Trumbull.
"It's very interesting," White said. "We've had some very good applicants."
They've whittled the applicants down to two, with the final decision up to Tetreau.
Whoever is chosen as the next DPW director, White said, will take the reins of a department that is running smoothly.
"I can't say enough about my supporting team," White said. "The new person coming in doesn't have to turn the ship around. ... My job has been to help, or most of the time get out of the way. They're all very conscientious. Stay out of their way and help them do their job; that was my job and that's the next guy's job."
When retirement begins Sept. 1, White said he plans on playing poker, sailing and spending time with his wife.
"I like to play poker. I want to try to get more tournament play," he said, adding with a laugh, "I'll probably go broke and be back looking for a job."
A part of White's position, which won't be found in any job description, has been to lead the roast of outgoing town employees -- a job most would agree he has done with panache and lots of humor. He won't be leaving that job unfilled.
"I feel confident that (Health Director) Sands Cleary will do a great job," White said. "We have the same sense of humor."
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