DPW director retires after more than three decades

Dec 29, 2020

The end of this year also marks the end of an era, of sorts: On Jan. 1, longtime Director of Public Works David Hickox will be retiring after 34 years working for the town.

Hickox got his start working as a civil and environmental engineer at nuclear power plants all over the northeastern US.

He and his wife had both graduated from Southeastern Massachusetts University, now called UMass Dartmouth, and owned a home here, although they moved around a lot.

So when they decided to settle down, Dartmouth was the obvious choice. 

“We loved Dartmouth,” Hickox said. “So out of the blue, I called the Dartmouth DPW and asked if they were hiring an engineer. And they were.”

He first came on as the assistant superintendent in the department — and what immediately struck him was the variety of duties in his new role.

Dartmouth’s Department of Public Works deals with civil and environmental engineering for water supply and distribution, including storage, collection and treatment, plus recycling and sanitation — “For years we operated the landfill here,” Hickox said — and transportation.

The latter is “a big part of what we do at DPW,” noted Hickox — particularly as Dartmouth, the third largest town in Massachusetts by land area, has more than 200 miles of roads.

He cites the variety of tasks as part of the reason he stayed on the job for over three decades.

“It’s funny, I enjoy it, but I think the general public — a lot of people have an interest in public works,” he noted. “I think it’s because everyone can relate to what we do.”

But another reason is to do with the town itself, as well as the people in it.

“Of course, Dartmouth’s a beautiful place to live,” Hickox said. “And we’ve been so fortunate to have a great crew here. All the years I've been here, there have been great people. We get a lot done because of the staff we’ve had.”

He expressed his gratitude for the support of all of the town boards in helping with projects like installing sewer “in vast areas of the town” — Dartmouth now has 100 miles of sewer mains, much of which was installed in the 1990s — and reconstructing the Padanaram causeway.

For Hickox, the causeway project was an achievement because it took 15 years to get the funding.

As for the sewer projects, he said, “We did that for a long, long, long time.” 

“I feel good about that,” he noted. “What was very rewarding was seeing all the environmental benefits.”

Changing from septic to sewer systems helps keep nitrates out of streams, rivers, and bays, keeping waterways cleaner.

“We often joke that most of what we do is buried — and that’s the truth,” Hickox said. “When you look at where the money goes, the underground utilities [are] a big part of the budget. Most of what we’ve built you don't see, and people just take it for granted.”

Ultimately, he added, the DPW is “very fortunate” to have received support from the town on a variety of improvements.

“I’m pleased to say that year after year our overall infrastructure has improved because of all the support we have from the town,” he said.

Hickox’s last day on the job is the first day of the new year.

“I’m definitely emotional,” he said. “I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy everyone I deal with on a day to day basis. I’ll miss the work.”

But although he said he’ll miss the plans and the projects, he will have plenty to keep him occupied in his retirement.

“I do a lot of projects and work on my own, and I’m looking forward to having the time to do that,” he said with a laugh, adding that he’s also looking forward to having a little more freedom and traveling with his family when the pandemic lets up.

“My next trip overseas will be Scotland,” he said. “Next fall, if Covid allows!”