After 51 years serving the town of Orwell, Walker James will step away
ORWELL — Walker James will sit at the front of Orwell Town Hall with the rest of the selectmen’s board next Tuesday morning as the dean of the town’s leadership.
For 51 years James has served the town in some capacity or another — moderator, school director, justice of the peace, sewer plant operations manager …
“He’s done a touch of everything,” said Tom Audet, the chair of the selectmen’s board.
After 31 years on the Orwell selectmen’s board, though, James’s long run will come to an end. The 86-year-old retired dairy farmer is not seeking re-election.
“It’s a privilege to serve this town,” he said, calling Orwell, “a very tolerant community.”
When asked what he is most proud of from his five decades of community service, James demurs.
“I sat in meetings a couple times a month for all those years,” he said. “I don’t know if I accomplished anything. I tried to support the good ideas that others had.”
After a pause he adds, “You can’t blow your own horn.”
Audet said there is plenty that James should be proud of. Many members of town boards look to James for his institutional memory.
“He’s got a great memory and he can tell us how we got here,” Audet said.
“His only agenda is to do what is best for the town,” Audet added. “He always gives 100 percent.”
One official job that James very much enjoyed was being master of ceremonies at the annual town parade every Memorial Day Weekend, which he did for a dozen years or so. He’d stand on the gazebo or reviewing stand and call out the names of the people and machines that passed by. It included not just Orwell residents but folks from Shoreham, Whiting and other area towns.
“I knew them all,” James said. “This community sticks together.”
At 86 years old, James says he has to keep close to home during his free time. He milked cows for 55 years and owned five farms, in addition to his public service. He was slowed down considerably two years ago when he and his wife, Gloria, were seriously injured in a head-on crash on Route 22A in West Haven.
At his last formal selectmen’s meeting on Monday night the board showed him the article in this year’s Orwell Town Report that thanks James for his work for the town.
“It makes you feel kind of small in some way to see that,” James said, in his humble way. “And it makes you feel big, too.”
A player in town politics for decades and decades, James at first was reluctant to give an opinion on the two men running to replace him on the selectmen’s board: long-time Orwell resident Bill Goddard and newer resident Karl Thomsen. But then, stating that he has nothing to lose by sharing his opinion, James blurted out, “Bill Goddard. He’s a heck of a good farmer.”
Next week won’t exactly be the end of Walker James’s service to Orwell. He’s on the ballot seeking a one-year term as town Grand Juror.
“I gotta keep my finger in something,” James said, acknowledging that in the several years he has served as grand juror he has not yet been called on by the state to perform any official duties, but…
“There’s always a first time.”
Audet noted that he since he was a kid he has lived next door to James, and he’s seen the man at work for years.
“They say good fences make good neighbors; we didn’t need a fence with him as our neighbor,” Audet said.
James is unsparing in his praise for his neighbors near and far. There’s no question where his allegiances lay.
“I’m proud of the town and the people,” James said. “It’s an exceptional community. In my opinion, there’s not another town in the county that stacks up to this one.”
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