Middlebury’s Watson is set to ride into the sunset

MIDDLEBURY — As administrative secretary at the Middlebury Department of Public Works, Verna Watson has often helped direct work crews to local roads in need of repairs.
But after 33 years on the job, Watson, 69, is herself ready to hit the road. She’ll be retiring at the end of this month with plans to explore the country with her husband, Al, on their Spyder three-wheeler as members of the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of her time at Public Works. “You’re busy dealing with people and the (public works) guys are easy to get along with.”
She started the job in June of 1980. She and her husband had relocated to the area from the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts as Al Watson started the job as Middlebury police chief. Verna had previously worked for the municipal water department in Yarmouth, Mass., so she seemed a good match for the vacancy at Middlebury Public Works.
Anyone who has called Middlebury Public Works has likely heard her voice and that familiar greeting, “Good morning, public works.” If she can’t answer the question, she either funnels the call to someone who can, or takes a message.
“There’s no voice mail here,” she said with a smile. “If they ask for voice mail, I say, ‘That’s me.’”
But Watson’s job has involved a lot more than phone calls.
She stamps the bills before sending them on to Highway Superintendent Dale Hazzard or Director of Operations Dan Werner. Then she enters the bills and sends them down to bookkeeping.
She prepares bills for the haulers who unload septage at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. She prepares spreadsheets on how much material the haulers have brought in per quarter and per year. She has a hand in preparing payroll for public works.
Watson has also billed out charges to each municipal department for the fuel they use from the pumps at the public woks headquarters on Route 7 South.
She served several years as chapter chair of ASCFME Local 1201, the Middlebury municipal workers’ union.
New technology and accounting procedures have reduced some of Watson’s chores and headaches over the years. She used to have to sort out different, seasonal accounts dealing with such categories as potholes, salting, signs and snow plowing. Workers had their own logbooks that supervisors would often have to decipher and pass along to her for accounting purposes.
“Over time, I’ve gotten pretty good with spreadsheets,” she said.
She has, of course, come to learn the town’s road system very well during the past three decades. It’s knowledge she accumulated over the years, and she had some interesting teachers. Watson recalled that when she first started, the late Sonny Cyr — who would work for the department for 42 years — would sometimes identify locations by who had previously lived at a nearby residence.
A lot of public works directors have come and gone during Watson’s tenure. They include Steve Simpson, George Gline, John Douglas, Bill Hageman and now Werner.
“It was a joy coming in to work,” she said, without hesitation.
Of course some days have been rougher than others. Public works is in the proverbial eye of the storm when major weather events hit; Watson remembers how the crews were straight out following Tropical Storm Irene and major snowstorms.
She was pleased to report that most residents have been calm and courteous in requesting road-related repairs. But there have been a few over the years who have launched into verbal tirades.
“I have only had to hang up on two people, for swearing, in 33 years,” Watson said.
When people call, Watson has made sure to take down the information and pass it on to the right people, who she said make a point of calling the complainants back.
“People are happy to have their phone calls returned,” she said.
But Watson won’t be the one passing along the messages come July 1. That’s when she and Al will be officially retired. Al Watson has been working as a deputy with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for more than two decades.
And they aren’t planning a sedentary retirement. They’ve mapped out several motorcycle trips with fellow members of the Blue Knights, made up of past and present law enforcement professionals. They’ve been avid motorcyclists for 40 years. She’s happy to let Al take the driver’s seat while she sits on the back, where she can doze off if she wants as the pavement melts away in the rearview mirror.
They will continue to make their home base in Leicester in between trips.
Werner and the rest of her colleagues at public works are wishing her the best.
“It’s been wonderful to work with Verna for the past 14 years,” Werner said. “Her knowledge of past projects and other town events were most helpful upon my arrival. I know I will miss her spreadsheet talents and her assistance at budget time greatly. I wish her and Al great fun on their motorcycle touring … and be safe!”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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