The man of the hour, public works supervisor Dustin Keelty, was in tears.
Surrounding him were a sea of proud supporters, decked in navy blue shirts emblazoned with “Keelty Strong,” that matched his emotion.
At a selectboard meeting in the town offices’ community room on December 18, Keelty received a 2017 Special Achievement Award from the American Public Works Association for his skillful management of the town department.
“Thank you guys very much. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without …” Keelty trailed off, before regaining composure. “… everybody in this room.”
Soon, his wife and two daughters enveloped him in a hug. “It means everything,” he said.
The award is presented to public works personnel up to the titles of foreman and supervisor who exude excellence, Rick Merson of APWA New England chapter told the crowd.
“Often, it’s the accomplishments of many, particularly in the face of adversity, the elements and sometimes tragedy that exemplify excellence and commitment to what they do,” Merson said.
Keelty’s feats stem from his ability to manage part-time workers, oversee large projects like the library expansion while simultaneously working in the field, ensure residents’ safety by inspecting and treating roads in the early winter mornings, ration salt during a supply shortage and cultivate teamwork throughout the public works staff.
The latter, Merson said, is the most significant. There were a number of unhappy folks during a salt shortage in 2014, and without Keelty, “the situation would’ve been worse,” Merson said.
The regional shortage took its toll, leaving workers to focus distribution to corners, hills and intersections. When such situations arise, Keelty said patience is key.
“Patience, a lot of patience,” he repeated. “Being able to evaluate things for more than just what’s good for today or tomorrow,
but what’s good for the long-range outlook.”
Keelty said public works is often criticized, so he’s grateful for the positive recognition. He hopes the award will inspire other staffers to continue working hard.
Loyal and dedicated, as town manager Don Turner referred to him, Keelty dates his own work ethic back to a few “old school, men of their word” influencers like his father.
“If you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you’re going to have time to do it again?” Keelty said, explaining the importance of taking pride in one’s work.
Pride, he says, is what keeps him going day to day. His days aren’t short, either. In the winter, he racks up 13 or 14-hour days sometimes beginning at 3 a.m. In these early hours, he said he’s talking with superintendent Ann Bradshaw to communicate if roads are safe for school travel.
Throughout the year, he averages about 10 hours a day. On the day he spoke with the Independent, he had a 5 a.m. wake up call — and that was a “good morning,” he said.
After 15 years with the department, he said he still enjoys coming to work. He began as the building and grounds superintendent, eventually filling his current position in 2011. For most of that time, he also served as a Milton firefighter.
Last month, the sea of people sporting “Keelty strong” shirts and sweatshirts included friends, family, firefighters, public works personnel and others. The phrase expresses support for Keelty, who was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Like his work ethic, his team is strong.
“Just to be recognized is incredible,” Keelty said. “It’s all because of teamwork, really, and the support of the community.”