ROCKLAND — Robert A. Marr is a hidden hero within the City of Rockland, according to his boss. Though he is a combat veteran of Vietnam, it is his quiet contribution to the preservation of the health and sanitation of Rockland residents, wildlife, and landscape for decades that has resulted in the honor.
Forty years are now past since Marr joined Rockland’s fledgling wastewater treatment plant, built deliberately in its downtown location starting in 1976 and commencing operations in 1978 to stem the tide of industrial waste and sewage into Lindsay Brook, Lermond Pond, and the other harbor inlets along the immediate coastline.
“I remember what Rockland was like 40 years ago,” said Councilor Valli Geiger. “I remember what Rockland was like 30 years ago.”
Though the lime industry may have faded, along with other factories, by 1976, the smell lingered until the treatment facility began redirecting the offense. After three to four years, Marr became involved with that restoration effort.
“Most people flush the toilet and forget about it,” said Terry Pinto, director of Wastewater Treatment Facility, now known as Water Pollution Control. “Someone’s got to catch that, and treat that. Someone must do what the rest of us take for granted.”
According to Pinto, the downfall of being a hidden hero is what the jobs are, and the people doing them, like Marr, that are so necessary for the City.
For Marr, his hidden hero status became public Monday, Jan. 13, as Rockland City Council presented him with a plaque and framed certificate of commendation.
“I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank Bob for all his hard work for the City,” said City Manager Tom Luttrell. “Forty years – I’m sure he’s seen a lot of changes in his time. I just want to thank him. You don’t see that dedication too often with people in any job nowadays, putting 40 years in one place.”
Marr is one of a few wastewater employees up for retirement recently, leaving Pinto to marvel at the dedication proven by a 40-year career with one employer, though Marr’s tenure is actually two years shorter than one of his soon-to-retire coworkers.
“It’s amazing that someone can survive in that water treatment plant for 40 years,” said Pinto. “Bob has done it.”
In a department with only 10 employees, including administration, and a career field that has skyrocketed with certifications of both technical and mechanical requirements, the parting of Marr’s expertise will create a void that may linger for as many as five years. That is, five years to replace him based on license and certification. It will take a lot longer to replace Marr’s ingrained experience that his coworkers seek out, and know “will only be in his head,” according to Pinto.
Wastewater treatment operators are difficult to find, according to Pinto. They must be licensed and certified through the state to deal with a computerized system, as well as the mechanical skills to repair the actual equipment.
“They’ve got to get their hands dirty,” said Pinto. “Finding someone willing to do that is very tough.”
Faced with the coming retirements, the department is trying a new tactic. Instead of demanding new hires to be certified from the onset, employers are hiring trainees. The facility will pay the salary while training the employee. And, in the meantime, the employee will work toward the highest Grade 5 operation, which takes 5 years to accomplish.
It’s a good profession, according to Pinto. Communities will always need treatment facilities, and the certifications can be used in any state.
Yet, experience prevails.
“Bob’s a very special person,” said Pinto. “I’m going to miss him greatly. He’s not only a loyal employee but a friend. It’s going to be a great loss, but I congratulate him, too, and wish him the best.”
With a turn and a salute, Pinto turned to Marr, who sat in the audience.
“Bob, job well done!” said Pinto.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org