A view from Glen Hill: Wilton will miss two of its best

Fire Chief Paul Milositz and School Superintendent Gary Richards have much more in common than the fact that both have announced retirement this summer. Their decisions represent a great loss to Wilton, and they certainly have that in common. There’s a lot more as well.

Each embodies a leadership style that endears him to his co-workers even as it encourages and facilitates excellence. Each shares a special gift for humor that offers a way to take the edge off brewing crises even as it smoothes more ordinary work days. Yet each also cuts to the heart of the matter in a no-nonsense, confident style that confirms you are in very capable hands whatever the rough sailing ahead.

These are great assets in leadership and fit the style of our times in which heavy-handedness does nothing but alienate those led. And in terms of dealing with the public, while neither Gary nor Paul has ever been a pushover, they’d also take the time to hear you out fully and respectfully consider your point of view — even if it was not always expressed in the most gracious of terms!

My experiences with each have been different. For Paul, I have been way down the chain of command as a CERT grunt with Paul as overall incident commander. I know that CERT leaders like Jack Majesky and T.G. Rawlins appreciate the role that Paul has played when CERT has been called up. Paul knows how to command in a way that motivates and inspires, and in a town where volunteers play such a large role, that is an especially significant leadership skill.

My knowledge of Gary is formed both by our friendship — in which his graciousness, wit, and devotion to helping others have been a continual inspiration — and by my observation of his work for our schools over his decade of service as Wilton’s school superintendent. I knew Gary when he was the superintendent of schools in New Canaan before the need to move to California to complete work in the school system there for pension reasons took him out West for a year.

As with everything Gary has done, it was a year filled with accomplishment, running a school district that desperately wanted him to stay. But he found he left his heart behind in Wilton, and so Gary and his wife Sheri decided that here was where they would stay. At that point, David Clune announced his retirement, and Gary entered the process of consideration for the Wilton superintendent’s position.

The competition was stiff with 50 distinguished candidates from around the country, a grueling set of interviews, and essays on points the diligent search committee wanted finalists to address in written form. The wisdom of the selection of Gary has been confirmed many times over in the years since then — most recently with his selection as Connecticut Superintendent of the Year.

Running school districts is no easy task as we all know, and the fact that Gary has been doing it for more than a quarter-century now in some of the premier school districts in the country — including our own — is a tribute to the excellence of his work, of course, but also to his patience and endurance. A superintendent’s work involves a grind of meetings of all types both in school and in town, and also with state officials. Success requires vision and skills in advocacy for that vision. Gary has demonstrated both.

That vision has led Wilton to a ranking in the top half-dozen schools in our state (and in some rankings, as high as second) by all who attempt to do those measurements, and while Gary is the first to point out that none of these measurements is without flaw, the consistency of them suggests they do capture reality. But the even better evidence is “on the ground,” in what we see our Wilton students accomplishing in so many remarkable ways. These results reflect outstanding student effort of course, but they also reflect the vision in programming that has integrated teaching across grade levels and individual schools in a holistic way and pushed key enhancement programs in everything from science and math to music into ever younger grades.

As we celebrate all that Gary and Paul have accomplished we also wish them all the best in their next steps, whether in new paths or in time simply for well-deserved relaxation. Our community has been made much the richer for their presence.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.