Tom Thurkettle retiring after nearly 40 years

There are some who call Superstorm Sandy, which struck in November of 2012, a severe nor’easter, but retiring Public Works Director Tom Thurkettle will always remember it as a hurricane.

“Oh yes, that was a hurricane,” said Thurkettle, who recalled Sandy as the most challenging storm in his nearly 40 years of service as the public works director, the one who directs the drivers and the cleanup crews who must deal with the aftermath of storms.

Sandy blew more trees down than Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Thurkettle said.

“It took three months to clean up after Hurricane Sandy,” Thurkettle said in his office in the town hall annex. “And the paperwork for it, to get reimbursed for the money we spent, took a year.”

Thurkettle’s word of advice to whoever it is that is chosen to follow in his footsteps, is to polish their people skills as well as their engineering skills.

“A lot of it is working with people,” said Thurkettle, who manages a staff of 22 workers, and is responsible for 323 town roads, covering 127 miles, with 770 acres of town right-of-way, not counting town buildings, parking lots and grounds.

The people mean a lot.

“I’ll miss the people,” said Thurkettle, who is 73.

He plans to spend his retirement doing what he loves to do, boating on Long Island Sound in his powerboat with his wife Carol, an administrative worker at Wilton High School.

“I like being on the water,” he said, saying that a day boat trip to Long Island to enjoy dinner in one of the restaurants there is a common voyage for his wife and him.

He may spend a lot on boat fuel to get there, but he is philosophical about it.

“You would spend $100 on gasoline and tolls if you drove there in your car,” he said with a smile.

The couple lives in Stratford, where Thurkettle was born and grew up. He attended both Stratford High School and Bunnell High School there.

For college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at New York University. He is a licensed civil engineer in New York and Connecticut. He worked in New York City before coming to Wilton nearly 37 years ago.

“I’ve been here more than half my life,” he said, explaining how he knew it was time to retire.

In his time, he has watched the town grow from a much smaller community, and in particular, has overseen the construction of municipal buildings, parking lots and sports fields.

His great achievement, he said, is his ability to save the town money, usually by performing work in-house rather than contracting it out.

“We’ve got great people. Everybody works as a team,” he said.

He’ll be remembered as the man who kept the storms under control and cleared the roads when winter struck.

It is with mixed feelings that First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice said she announced Thurkettle’s retirement, effective Sept. 1.

“Tom has been a valuable part of the fabric of the town for more than 35 years. His handprint is on much of the growth and changes seen during those years. Many of us, including the eight first selectmen with whom he has served, have benefited from his knowledge and the vast history he keeps stored in his brain,” Vanderslice said in a statement.  

Town officials will begin developing a plan for selecting his replacement. “No question, Tom leaves big shoes to fill,” Vanderslice said.