Robert Malley, 62, is retiring this summer as director of Cape Elizabeth’s Department of Public Works. He has held the position for nearly 34 years. Photo courtesy Robert Malley

CAPE ELIZABETH —When Robert Malley became director of Cape Elizabeth’s Public Works Department in 1986, no one was more surprised than he was.

At just 28 years of age, he was younger than everyone else in the department, younger than public works directors in most neighboring communities, and possibly the youngest public works director in the state.

Now, nearly 34 years later, the Cape resident has announced his retirement, effective July 31, after more than 40 years of service to the town.

“It’s been a long run,” Malley told The Forecaster this week.

Malley started with the department as a clerk back in 1979, a mere three years after graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School. He was nearly finished with a college degree at the University of Southern Maine and left full-time schooling in his senior year to take the job with the town. (Malley finished his degree, in business administration, in 1983.)

His initial job, he said, involved a lot of paperwork, payroll processing and other duties. He even cleaned the town garage from time to time.

“It wasn’t a very glorious job,” he recalled.

In 1986, when the director’s position became available, Malley didn’t apply, thinking he was too young. It was only when approached that he applied, and still couldn’t believe it when then-Town Manager Michael McGovern offered him the position.

“I learned quickly,” he said. “I just picked up on the program.”

Cape Elizabeth Town Clerk Debra Lane, who started her career with the town the same year as Malley, said his drive and dedication to the job was obvious then and now.

“He’s one in a million. He really is,” she said.

Lane said even when discussing complex or technical matters, Malley made sure he was understood, and listened to feedback from everyone, even those outside his own field.

“He talks to you, not around you,” Lane said.

Malley said he took pride in a number of projects he’s worked on, but remained careful in his recollections to note “I’ve been involved with” the work, indirectly giving credit to other town employees that contributed. He noted two major sewer projects, in 1987 and 2006, along with a major upgrade of the town’s transfer station in 2017.

“Glorious” might not be a term one applies to road, water and sewer line projects, but one particular effort Malley recalled may be responsible for rebuilding the town’s Elizabeth Park neighborhood. A longtime part of the community, homes in the area date back to World War II, when housing was first built there to accommodate shipyard workers. By 2006, however, the neighborhood’s infrastructure, which hadn’t had an update since it was first established, was showing its age.

“We had some drainage problems, and the roads were a mess,” Malley said.

The revitalization project replaced the roads, water and sewer lines, an immediate modernization that Malley said that part of town desperately needed.

“We basically rehabilitated the entire neighborhood,” he said.

Another project he recalled in particular was building a new public works facility in 1999. Part of the townwide “facilities 2000” project, Malley took part in consulting with architects, engineers, and even interior decorators in building a much-needed new public works building, which is still in use today. The previous public works building, as part of the townwide project, was converted into what is now the town’s current fire station.

“It was very rewarding to be part of that project,” he said.

Like every community’s public works director, Malley and his team have also spent 33 years battling Maine’s sometimes-punishing winters. Malley said he recalled one blizzard, “about five years ago,” that dumped snow on the region overnight. His crews had to clear the roads in unusually cold temperatures that hovered around 3 degrees.

“That was a really challenging storm,” he said. “We had to plow overnight, in the darkness. That’s always a challenge.”

Town Manager Matthew Sturgis, himself a longtime public official, called Malley “one of my most trusted department heads.” Sturgis said Malley’s service has greatly benefited Cape Elizabeth.

“You can’t look many places in town and not see his mark,” Sturgis said.

For example, Sturgis recalled a project Malley ran from 2016–18 that separated the town’s sewer system from the system that drains rainwater into Casco Bay. It’s a project that people usually don’t see, but nevertheless had an impact on the cleanliness of the bay.

“People don’t realize it, but it was a major undertaking to get that done,” Sturgis said.

Sturgis also noted the department’s current project on Scott Dyer Road. Scheduled to be completed this summer, the project will include road surfacing, and also some much-needed sidewalk space that will make the area not only more pleasant, but much safer for people, including the area’s schoolchildren, to walk.

“That’s been a generation in coming,” Sturgis said.

That’s why Malley is waiting until July to officially retire. He said he wants to finish that project and hopefully finish off the 2021 department’s budget by then.

“It’s going to be a good time for my successor to ease into it,” he said.

As to what’s next for Malley, he said he’s not sure. He will be spending time with his wife, Becky, who has already retired from her information technology job at Anthem Blue Cross, but he expects he will “reenter the workforce” in some way, and that a life of sitting still does not suit him.

“I’m only 62, and it’s too early to sit in a rocking chair,” he said.

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