Mint Hill said goodbye this week to a staff member who’s served the town since 1984: Public Works Director Dwayne Dorton.
The Mint Hill resident retired this week, working his last day Friday, Aug. 31. He didn’t want a retirement party and, in fact, was hesitant to talk with the Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly about his service to the town. His colleagues say this reserved and humble Vietnam veteran will be sorely missed.
“I would rather just go out quietly,” Dorton said. “I’ve operated behind the scenes and I would like to go out that way.”
Town Manager Brian Welch said Dorton’s experience is hard to match.
“We’re all obviously very sad Dwayne’s leaving the town after the very many, many years he gave to the town,” he said. “We’re going to miss his work ethic and dedication to the town and his deep level of expertise.”
Welch said he’ll likely name public works supervisor Tim Garner as interim public works director and “give him an opportunity to learn the job on a permanent basis. We always try to promote from within.”
The town will hire another public works crew member but Welch said it could be several months before that position is advertised.
A Mint Hill native, Dorton worked in the trucking industry when, on a whim, he stopped by the then newly built town hall to see if they had any job openings. They did. He joined a staff of two in the public works department but fell into the position as director.
He was hired in March and took a week of vacation in June. When he came back his boss was gone and, much to his surprise, he was put in charge of the department.
“And I’ve had the keys ever since,” he said, smiling. Dorton’s hired all of the department’s current seven other employees and security personnel at each town park.
During those early days he graded roads, patched potholes, put up benches and bleachers at town parks and even dug ditches by himself. The department had two well-worn grading machines, inherited from the state, without doors or lights. He installed those himself.
When Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989, he was prepared for the clean up and had been hauling debris for hours when he learned a tree had fallen on his own house. Dorton hired extra workers and for days they hauled debris from around town to an open field and burned it each afternoon. Most of Mint Hill was without power for weeks, he said.
Dorton said he’s been proud to serve the town – even during emergencies – but is looking forward to not being on call and his usual 4:23 a.m. wake-up time. Why that unusual time is set on his alarm clock he doesn’t know.
“It has been a pleasure working here for the town. You meet a lot of good people around here,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to miss more than anything – the people.”
That sentiment especially includes his public works crew.
“I have to give these people all the credit,” he said. “I’m kind of the leader … but they get it done. I’m really going to miss the people here. I see these people more than my wife or family.”
And what will Dorton do during retirement? He doesn’t know yet. But he’s eager to spend more time with family, including his wife, Jane.
But he’ll be back to visit. And there’s one other friend he’ll return often to see: a furry feline named Blazer. The tomcat has been the department’s unofficial mascot for almost three years after he hitched a ride to the office underneath the hood of a department employee’s Chevrolet Blazer.
He was about two months old then, dirty and had fleas, Dorton said. The crew fed him, cleaned him up, got rid of the fleas and Blazer had a new home. Today he has the run of the shop and Dorton says he’ll be buying Blazer’s cat food and litter.
“I’m going to miss coming down here everyday and seeing Blazer and the guys,” he said. “This has been my livelihood for so many years and I’ve got nothing else to do. It’ll be hard to leave.”