A Force for Good in Falmouth

Public Works Angel George Calise Ready to Retire

A force for good in Falmouth.  After long pondering just how to describe my dear friend and colleague, and Falmouth's public works angel Gaetano "George" Calise, it occurred to me that above all else, and we'll talk about the "else"  here, George has been the personification of good government in this community for over twenty years. And above all else, that is what we thank him for today. Next week, George will spend his last day as our Town Engineer and will leave behind a lifetime of achievements that transformed the infrastructure of Falmouth and an unforgettable example of what a dedicated public servant can mean to the community he serves.

From Manny "The Dinosaur" Rapoza, to the wisdom of Nate Ellis, to the infectious smile of Ronnie Nielsen, to the wit of Bill Owen, the Falmouth DPW has always had its personalities, but George stands above even these legends with the way he poured his soul into every project bearing his engineer's stamp.

My favorite George Calise story is a great example both of this dedication to getting the job done right and George's unmatched work ethic.  Many years ago early in my tenure as a Selectman, I called George in response to a constituent concern that the mile markers along the pavement of the Shining Sea Bikepath (it was still just the original portion from Woods Hole to Locust Street) had faded.  Thinking I'd hear a simple "I'll take care of it" on the other end of the phone, I was a bit surprised when George suggested I meet him at the entrance to the bikepath that Saturday and that the new markers would be installed. I obliged, figuring I would have an opportunity to supervise some DPW workers, demonstrate my management skills, and accept a heaping of praise from an adoring public. George Calise, in his instructive humility, had other plans.

When my daughters and I showed up, there was George alone, with a couple of hammers, some reflective tape, a walking wheel, and two blocks of wood, ready to do the job.  There was to be no supervision of workers that day - we, including my young daughters, were the workers.  We walked and measured, knelt, hammered and measured again, and in a few hours, had installed new markers along all of the three mile stretch.  The kids still talk about what we accomplished that day.

The lesson, the example for all of us from that day, was what will be George's lasting legacy.  This man, who, at the time, was responsible for over 100 men and millions in public funds, needed to show the new, overly self-assured elected official, that it wasn't enough to simply make a call to get the people's business done.  A good job - a truly good job - consisted of caring enough to see the details through and caring enough to do the work yourself, if that's what it took. And many times over the years, that is exactly what it took.  It was not a rare site to see George around town, paint in hand, marking bridges that needed repair, circling potholes that needed filling, or climbing down an embankment that needed reinforcing.  All because he cared.

Every village in our community has a project that bears his caring handprint. Think of the Church Street Bridge in Woods Hole and its magnificent wooden supports - supports that otherwise would be just more overgrowth in the concrete jungle if not for a public official who listened and cared about the public he so richly served. Think of the rolling and winding miles of Acapesket Road - with the safety of sidewalks along its shoulder - the direct result of tireless lobbying by a Town Engineer more aptly named the people's engineer. The list is nearly endless and stretches from the Chapaquoit Bridge in West Falmouth  to the Meadowneck Bridge in Waquoit - from the repavement of nearly all of Route 28 to the rebirth of that same bikepath - few Falmouthites have not been touched by the career of George Calise. 

He has a familiar phrase, one that finishes nearly every sentence.  "Etcetera," George likes to say, a simple acknowledgement that much work is left to do, but that he's got the details covered.

As we offer all the thanks and gratitude we can muster for this extraordinary career and an unbreakable friendship, a simple "etcetera" is appropriate here as well.  Much work is left to do, George, but we've got the details covered.  After all, you taught us to care enough to get the job done.

 This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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