Troy's Take: The 'Park Guy' And His Legacy Of Passion

Troy ClarksonAmy Rader Photographer - Troy Clarkson

The late Bill Owen, longtime director of the Falmouth Department of Public Works, was a self-proclaimed “road guy.” Bill loved roads. He had a sixth sense about how to cost out road projects, how the roads were constructed, and how best to maintain them. He could look at a road like Beethoven would look at a Stradivarius and be able to instantly identify its quality. I can remember sitting at the large oak conference table in his office in town hall and marveling at his handwritten spreadsheets and ledgers, calculating with pinpoint accuracy the costs associated with maintaining Falmouth’s 400 miles of road. 

When I had the honor to speak at Bill’s memorial service, I mentioned that his skill—and passion—that led him to be a leader in his industry and one of the most respected “road guys” in the commonwealth, was both his gift to Falmouth and his lasting legacy.

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Today, a new generation of DPW leaders—today’s skilled and passionate public servants—are seeking to make their mark on our community. Like Bill, their passion shines in their work and is embodied in their projects that not only improve our community, but create their own lasting legacy.

Edwin (Rocky) Gomes is such a leader in our community. Rocky has worked for the DPW for most of his adult life, rising through the ranks and assuming the moniker of superintendent of trees, parks, forestry and school grounds upon the retirement of another local legend, his mentor and my friend, Brian Dale. Like Bill and Brian before him, Rocky’s skill and passion are his gift to Falmouth. And as  Bill was to roads and Brian was to trees, Rocky is a “park guy.” When I met with him and a couple of his rising stars this week, he noted that he and Brian shared a vision to modernize the focus and performance of the department. “This is not your grandfather’s DPW,” Rocky noted, speaking with an Owen-esque passion and purpose that made me proud to be a Falmouthite.

Rocky not only creates, though; he inspires his team to do the same and has assembled like-minded public servants who share his vision to create a better tomorrow. Tree foreman Jeremiah Pearson and parks laborer Chris Bennett are the rising stars with whom I visited. They shared with me their latest opus, the improvements to Main Street’s Peg Noonan Park. A decade and a half ago, the park was the centerpiece of the Main Street revitalization. It fulfilled its intended purpose and became a gathering spot, a civic and social hub for occasions and community events, its grounds and its bandstand well used.

Due to the success of the space, however, the park became tired. Rocky provided Jeremiah and Chris a wide creative berth, and armed with that support from their leader, they went to work. A trained arborist with a creative flair, Jeremiah designed the upgraded park and created improvements to provide blooming highlights each season. “He excels,” noted Rocky of his shining supervisor. He sure does—and did on this project. Chris joined the town recently after landscaping in the private sector for more than 20 years, seeking simply to translate his pride in this community into action by giving back and improving it one day, one project at a time. He joined Jeremiah and together they transformed the tired and wilting park into a vibrant restored civic space.

While you may not recognize a beauty bush by name, you’ll be able to spot it when it follows the azaleas and hydrangeas as the late-season dash of color in the park. The core of the park’s improvements is the installation of a seven-son tree, a fairly new species that blooms in September and will act as a perpetual reminder of September 11. The improvements also included upgraded electrical services, a newly constructed performance patio (with thanks to Sheriff Jim Cummings and his work crews), a lit pathway to the public restrooms, and cobblestone accents that will provide a link to the library lawn, continuing a verdant accent in a vibrant downtown.

The improved Peg Noonan Park is not some theoretical tender valley in West Virginia or mountain range in Colorado—it’s our real-life gathering space in the heart of our downtown for Falmouthites and visitors alike. Many days, I’ll walk down and sit on a bench near the peace rock and just enjoy the backdrop of humanity and their beautiful noises passing by. Today, all of us have Rocky and his team to thank for moments like that.

Bill would be proud. Rocky the park guy’s passion has inspired valued employees like Jeremiah and Chris to leave their own legacy for us to enjoy—every day.

(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at votetroy99@aol.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.)

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