Christian E. Williams Interview
This is File #7, cycle 4. Today’s date is Dec. 5, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Chris Williams who is on the Board of Selectmen in Salisbury. He is going to talk about his various activities as a Boy Scout leader, his paper route when he was a young man, the Grove when he worked there, political activities and anything else he wants to talk about. First we’ll do the really difficult thing.
JM:What is your name?
CW:My name is Chris Williams. I live in Lakeville, Connecticut on Walton Street.
JM:You were not born in town were you?
CW:No I wasn’t. My mother and father came to Salisbury in the winter of 1971. My father was an engineer who was transferred. He worked for Colgate-Palmolive Corporation. He was transferred up here to oversee a newly acquired factory Wash and Dry which is in North Canaan.
JM:When you moved here, where did you live?
CW:My parents bought a house on the corner of Conklin St. and Route 41. It was the old Frank Wright house. When we first came the house was not ready, so we lived at the White Hart Inn for about three weeks. It was a lot of fun. The closing went through and we moved into the house.
JM: What was the neighborhood like then?
CW:The neighborhood was really great. We had the McCabe, Rolly McCabe, lived across 41. At the end of Grove Street lived Debbie and Jeff Wrights, and Ronny Ray, and the Duboises (Jimmy & Olive) were at the far end of the road. The Stevens (Donald Sr. & Lorraine) lived at #14 Grove St. The Parsons, Richard E. was an Olympic skier, lived at 20 Undermountain Road (route 41).
JM:That was George’s father. (See tape #72, George Parsons)
CW:Right. We had the Stewards who were on one corner and Mrs. Josephine Winter has a hair salon. She was our neighbor going north on route 41. There were a lot of comings and goings at her place because she operated a hair salon.
JM:Tell me about your paper route.
CW:In 1972, the last part or 1973 the Wrights, Debbie & Jeff, used to deliver the Waterbury Republican and they didn’t want to do it anymore. So we took on their paper route around town. At the same time we also picked up the Hartford Courant. We delivered both papers in town.
JM;Was Saturday collection day?
CW:It was. We used to have a book, like a flip book, that had little tear-out tags in it. You would leave a bill and then give them a receipt with the tear-off tag. The overseer from the paper would come and you had to have that money for the week. You had to collect. That was really the worst part of the
whole job. I think nowadays you just mail it in or they charge you on your credit card on line, but back then we had to collect. There were some people that were in arrears for a lot of weeks. It was just the way it was.
JM:I used to take the Hartford Courant when I lived on Wells Hill. Kevin Wiggins was my paper boy. I used to have mice in the apartment. So Kevin would come to collect, and after he got rid of the mouse, I would pay him. You moved away after a while.
CW:In 1976, they closed down Wash & Dry in North Canaan, and my father was transferred to another factory in Maine. They bought the Taconic Golf shoe factory in Gardiner, Maine. So we transferred to Maine. They bought a house on the shore of West Bath. That is where I went to high school.
JM:Then you joined the Marines.
CW:I was just out of high school. I joined the Marine Corps. I signed up in 1980 when I was 17. My mother signed the papers for me to join. Then I went in in July 9, 1981, out of Portland, Maine.
JM:Where was your training?
CW:Paris Island, South Carolina. I was in the, I Company of the 3rd battalion. Those were some times back then. They make Marines down there. They made one of me. We like to think we are the toughest branch of the service.
JM:Where were you deployed?
CW:After basic training I went to MOS school which is Military Occupational Service. I went to Millington, Tennessee for aviation ordinance school. When I signed up, the recruiter said that I was going to be working with computers. Computers were the up and coming thing at the time. I worked with computers, but it was on weapons systems on warrior aircraft. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. After my schooling I was assigned to a fighter squadron on the East Coast which was in Beauford, South Carolina. There were 4 sister squadrons down there. They would rotate every 8 or 9 months to the Far East. To rotate new pilots would come in and they would have to quality, air to air, air to ground. The qualifications would take you all over the United States, whether it is out west to Yuma, Arizona, or air to air was in Virginia Beach. There were different deployments: some of our pilots were good enough to go to the top gun school out in San Diego: other times we went down to Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico and train on live missile shoots down there. Once they have their certifications that they were combat ready, then everything would be embarked up, packed up, and we would go to Japan and the Far East. We would be stationed in Japan. From there we would make deployments out to the Philippines, and Korea. One time we flew cover for the fleet when they went down the slot between Japan and Russia. The fleet can’t turn into the wind; this is during the Cold War. Misawa, Japan, we flew live ordinance out to protect the fleet as they went down through the slot. You get to see a lot of things and it was a great experience, it really was. For a young guy to go to Hiroshima and see Ground Zero: I was able to go to
the DMZ. They had a tour up there and I got to see that between North and South Korea. In the building where they negotiated the truce, there is a line and they said that this is the only time you can cross into North Korea without a national incident. So they let us cross into North Korea in the building. I got to see how they all lived. It is something.
JM:It gives you perspective.
CW:It really does. You really appreciate how good we have it here and how great things are here. Even on a bad day here it is nothing compared to what some people have to endure.
JM:How long did you serve?
CW:I got out July 10 of 1985. That was my separation date. I came back home. I had gotten married the last year of my service. I came back and rekindled a relationship with a girl that I had met in grammar school (Patricia Hahne Ed.) at Salisbury Central. She was a friend of my sister and we had stayed in touch off and on. After you get around the world you see a lot of things. You ask yourself where do I want to end up and what kind of person do I want to share my life with. Salisbury is a great place.
JM:I think you said you had 4 years of active service and 2 years inactive?
CW:I did an active service and inactive reserve one year before joining up and then I did a year after active duty. It is a maintain uniform duty. You go on a short list. If there is a national emergency, they can reactivate you right away if they don’t have the personnel to take care of the issue.
JM:What was your rank when you came out?
CW:I was an E4 corporal. E4 is an enlisted rank of the fourth step; it is two hashes above and the crossed rifle below. I was a non -commissioned officer.
JM:What year did you return to Salisbury?
CW:1985 I was married and that was one of the reasons I got out of the service. I was married a year and I had a son that was 6 months old.
JM:You wanted to be in the fire department here.
CW:I did want to be in the fire department. That was a big thing. The Lakeville Hose Company was always a big deal when I was a kid and in boy scouts. There were a lot of firemen around and I always wanted to be in the fire department. But I had a job with the state (DOT Ed.) I just got a new job with the state after I got out of the service. We are on call 7 months out of the year which is 24/7 and it is all weather dependent. But the bylaws of the Lakeville Hose Company state if you miss so many meetings, then you are automatically out of the fire company. That year we had a real heavy snow fall and it seems that the snowfall was happening every time the fire company met. One of the fire officers came
up to me and said you have missed a number of meetings. What is going on? So I explained it to him. They might vote you out. I decided to resign and be in good standing. So I did resign.
JM:But then you went on the Fire Commission.
CW:Later on I got a chance to help the fire company. I know a lot of the people who are in the fire company. I went to grammar school with them. Now they are the higher ups and officers in the fire company. When the opportunity came to get on the Fire Commission Board, I jumped at it. I can help this way. Because of my job I can’t make every fire and I can’t make all the meetings, but I could give back in the Fire commission.
JM:How long were you on the Fire Commission?
CW:I think 12 years.
JM:What is the responsibility of the Fire Commission? What does it do?
CW:When I first got on, the Fire Commission was a totally separate entity from the town. They were a taxing authority for the water district of Lakeville that has fire hydrants. They oversaw the old fire house and Community field (behind Patco Ed.)which is the baseball field. While I was on it, they transferred into the new fire house (near Brook St. Ed.) They sold the old fire house (on Sharon Road Ed.)The Fire Commission oversees the fire budget; they watch over the expenditures of the fire budget. They watch over the fire truck fund which the town contributed to in order to buy new fire trucks, which are very expensive. Fuel and water for the heating of the building and water for the fire hydrants generate bills that the fire Commission oversees.
JM:Is a fire truck more expensive than an ambulance?
CW:Yes, but some ambulances can be more expensive that some fire truck, depending upon exactly how they are fitted out.
JM:For pick-up money you went to work at the Grove?
CW:I had three children (Andy, Sara, and Megan Ed.). My oldest had left college and my two younger daughters were at college at the time. In summer time there was no overtime from the winter, and usually at the end of summer when the girls went back to college, there was a big expense. Textbooks are outrageously expensive. How can I supplement my income? I’ll see if I can work at the Grove this summer. We’ll bank that money and use it in the fall.
JM:When did you go to the Grove?
CW:2012 and worked there for two summers.
JM:Who was the Manager?
CW:Stacey Dodge (See file #40, Stacey Dodge) was the Manager who hired me. What a great place! I went to grammar school with her. I knew the family, skiing at Hob Nob Hill, and Bittersweet, skating at Schmidt Rink at Hotchkiss on Thursday nights. We used to go ice skating there.
JM:I had her in fourth grade!
CW:She interviewed me and she asked why I wanted to work at the Grove? I explained to her what was going on. She said, “I have only one thing I want you to know -this is 100% for the kids. That is #1 priority is the children here. Their safety and they are protected and they have a good time that is what we are here for. The adults come second.”
JM:What a wonderful sentiment.
CW:You know what, she is absolutely right. I couldn’t tell you when I was working there how many kids and adults who were coming back and they said, “I grew up here or I was here for 2 or 3 years and it looks the same and can I come in?” You are supposed to charge them admission. She would say when people like that come, let them come in. We always just say, “Welcome home.” I can remember Teddy McCue came back one time. He used to swim the lake. I said, “Teddy you are always welcome here. You are a townie. Welcome home.”
JM:What shift did you have?
CW:I used to do the night shift because I worked until 4. So I would come in around 4:30 or 5 and work until closing the gate at 8 PM. On Saturdays I would work 2-8 closing. Sometime I would also work Sundays. On holiday weekends and holidays I would work too. I was mainly at the gate, collecting or work the cash register, sell ice cream and get down the canoes and rent them and boats rentals. I did whatever was needed. At nighttime we cleaned the bathrooms and made the place clean for the next day.
JM:Boy Scouts I guess you got into boy Scouts because of your son Andy?
CW:That’s right. My oldest joined cub scouts. I wanted to be involved. I was a soccer coach for him so I joined scouting. Pat suggested that I get involved with scouting so I did. The charter was held by St. John’s church. Rev. Bevan was the cub master, so I became the assistance cub master. I am not sure what to do. Rev. Bevan said that I would be OK. Within the next couple of years he stepped away from the whole thing, I then became the cub master. We held the Blue & Gold banquet and arranged for the awards for the Wolf pack and the cub scouts and Webelos. Those are the three sections that the cub master overlooks.
JM:There are names for the little ones: tiger cubs, wolf cubs, and bear cubs.
CW:There are the first grade, second grade and third grade boys: they mostly have a good time running around on the playground. They make a nice play group but that is part of it.
JM:I am assuming you stayed in scouts as long as Andy was in it. 6.
CW:He transitioned from cub scouts to boy scouting. The charter moved from St. John’s after a little bit and the Masonic Lodge in Lakeville held the charter for the final two years that I was in it. I also transitioned into being a scout master, pack 7 became troop 7.
JM:Who was your cub master?
CW:When I was in Lakeville grammar school, my cub master was Dick Barton. The meetings used to be held upstairs in the old fire house on Sharon Road. Fred Bushnell was in it, Darin Reid, myself, Peter Kuba and a whole bunch of other guys were in it. Dick Barton had us hike up over the Appalachian Trail from Salisbury to Falls Village and spent the night out on the trail. That was a thrill. We were really camping.
JM:Wack Forest is that part of the scouting territory?
CW:I believe that Wack Forest was donated to the town for the express purpose of scouting and scouting use: it is a piece of attractive land over off route 112. That was always a big camp out too. We used to go there. When I was a scout master, I made sure that I took our scouts to Wack Forest and we camped out for one night.
JM:You gave me a really good reason why there are fewer Boy Scout activates now in Salisbury.
CW:When I was a scout master we used to go down to Torrington to attend meetings. They used to always say why don’t you bring your scouts down to Camp Workceoman? Camp Workceoman was off Route #1 83 down in Winsted on the Torrington-Winsted town line. They have a lake there and it is beautiful. Why are your scouts not part of our summer camp program? The truth of it is that our recreation department (See tape #36, Lisa McAuliffe) in our town is so great that it makes no sense to make them get on a bus and drive 45 minutes to Camp Workceoman. They did not realize that. We have at the town Grove sailing, kayaking, baseball camp, tennis camp and it is just a great place to be in the summer.
JM:Did you ever do a Pinewood Derby?
CW:We sure did. We had it at the old Grove building. We got the track which was handed down to us from another scout master. A lot of the scouting things are handed down from one scout master to another. It was a three track car track. There is nothing more exciting than a Pinewood Derby. The kids get so excited and even the adults get ramped up. It is such a great thing. (See File #2, cycle 4, Baxter Keller on Pinewood Derby) Paul Roy was my assistant scout master. He stored the track at his house. We used to set it up at the town Grove. We would always pull a mother and a father who had their sons in scouting to be at the finish line to call it. Now they have electronic timers. Back when we were doing it, it was just by eye. Holy moly I would not want to do that! Some tracks were faster than others! They would have to draw for the track. You can’t touch the cars once they are weighted in. It was quite an affair. It was a lot of fun.
JM:Let’s go on the Assessment Board of Appeals. Why did you join that one?7.
CW:I wanted to get involved with politics in our town. There comes a time when you realize that the town has given you and your family so much, so it is time to pay it back. Or pay it forward as they would say now. We are truly just custodians and we have to step up and ensure that what we hand down to the next generation is what we have been given or maybe make it a little better if we can. I approached one of the political parties in town. They had an opening on the Board of Assessment Appeals, would you be interested in that? I said, “Sure I will run.” That was in 2014. I am glad you took notes!
JM:As you explained it to me, if I don’t agree with my assessment, and I can’t work it out with the town assessor, then I go to the Assessment Board of Appeals.
CW:What happens is your property or your vehicle is taxed by the town, if you don’t agree with the assessment that has been given you, you try to work it out with the Assessor. If she says that she stands firm on the number, and you still think that you are correct, you have recourse. She is not the final say in the matter. There is a body of citizens that are elected to the Board of Assessment Appeals that you can appeal to. You have to make an appointment: there is a certain time frame, everyone knows. The assessor assembles what she has and then the board comes in and they discuss the issue and express their opinion. Then they render a decision as to the settlement. It can be used in a court of law. It is almost a testimony. If you don’t agree with the Board of Assessment Appeals, you can appeal it to judicial system and a judge can hear it. Some people do. They go higher. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. They have a choice: that is democracy. Everyone should have the chance to question.
JM:How long did you serve on that board?
CW:I was on that for 4 years.
JM:Who is the Chairman?
CW:John Harney Jr. (See File #12, cycle 2, John Harney Jr.) is the Chairman. (He has been on the board since 2000. Ed.) Here’s a good story: a lot of times when you hear cases, you really are not supposed to comment, you just take in the information from the people who are presenting their case. After you are done debating amongst yourselves, it is open to the public, but you can debate at another meeting. We go case by case and debate it openly. The public can hear our debates. We were hearing a case on someone, and John Harney Jr. started asking these questions. You are showing the hand of the town and you have to be really careful. You protect the town’s interests as well as the person involved. I reached under the table with my foot and I banged him in the shin. “Oh! I guess I had better be quiet now.” He’s a Marine also so we get along well.
JM:The Board of Finance is interesting.
CW:I was still on the Fire Commission at the time as well as the Board of Assessment Appeals. There became an opening of the Board of Finance. I’d like to be a selectman: this is a steppingstone to get there. I needed to learn the budgetary steps and how everything is laid out. I wanted to learn how the
comptroller worked and how the tax money is cut up. If something happens, how is it taken care of? Those were all things that the Board of Finance deals with. They question expenditures: they question line items. They question how the tax dollars are being spent. They are an elected board of townspeople. One of the things once I got on the board, I had to resign from all the other boards so there would be no conflict of interest. The Fire Commission was a paid position. I had to resign from that and the Board of Assessment Appeals. With that board you are saying how much money can come in. Thus you know how much money is coming in and then spend it.
JM:When you are handling other people’s money, you have to be very rigorous.
CW:Yes, you must be transparent. That is a good thing too. Bill Willis was the chairman (See file #48, cycle 2, Bill Willis) of the Board of Finance. It was really good and was a steep learning curve for me. I did get to see how things were run. There is a heritage that has been passed down from previous people on the board: it is an attitude. I like to call it the “Carl Williams” attitude because he was the chairman for such a long time in our town. Carl was a big canoer, (See tape # 111A, Carl Williams). He used to say, “We do not in Salisbury want white water. We always want easy paddling.” That is the manta that I always took to the Board of Finance. We don’t want any ups or downs: we just want to keep things very smooth, and very easy. That is why our mill rate is so low. We are the lowest in the state. This has to do with oversight and quality management.
JM:It works throughout all the different boards whose members I have interviewed. You all work together as a well- oiled machine.
CW:We get along so well here. It is the attitude. We have a reputation of getting along. It is a great place.
JM:You have to work at it. You have to compromise and you have to see both sides of an issue. You have to be fair to all and that is what people seem to want to do in town.
CW:I agree. It is a great place to raise a family.
JM:Why did you decide to run for selectman?
CW:I think that we are just custodians and the town had given me so much, I just wanted to step forward and give back. Our current First Selectman Curtis Rand will be 67 or 68. He has done it for a long time. (See tape# 37, Curtis Rand: Curtis Rand has been on the Board of Selectmen since 1990 and First Selectman since 2005. Ed.) His generation has carried the torch: now it is time for the next generation to carry the torch and pass it on to the next generation after that. It is much like scouting. There is a progression of the next group of people who come along. You oversee and take care of what you can hand down.
JM:Do you have specific responsibilities as a selectperson?
CW:I am Chairman of the Pathways & sidewalks Committee. We are working on connectivity in the town. I am on the Parks & Forests Committee, the Scenic Roads Commission, and I sit in on the Grove Committee. I would say I am mostly a sounding board, aside from those committees, for the First Selectman. I give my point of view to him. I listen to his. Our other selectman, Don Mayland (See tape #77, Donald Mayland) is great too. He also gives his point of view. It has been a really good experience and is a good board. We are a diverse group. Don is so interesting with what he has done with diving and school (Hotchkiss). Curtis lived in France and attended high school there. His grandmother was a great painter (Ellen Emmett Rand Ed.) Rand is a big name. I can remember delivering papers to his father at his law office next to the church it was in the red building where Best & Cavallo Real Estate are now. He used to have this monster big desk. I would go in and collect. I was so scared of him. He wore glasses and he would always look over the top of them down at me, Jake Rand.
JM:Ellen Emmett Rand painted a portrait of Rev. Henry Chiera of St. John’s Episcopal Church who was my brother-in-law. Would you be interested in running for selectman again?
CW:Yes, definitely I really like the people of Salisbury, they are good people. They are honest people. If you are honest with them, I think they are honest with you. I am ready to continue the generational step- up.
JM:Where do you want the town to go in the future?
CW:I would love to see a group of young people to get involved with the town. I am sure some of it is reaching out. I would like to see some technology in town, high speed internet, fiber optics.
JM:Talk to Daniel McMullan. (See file #45, cycle 3, Daniel McMullan)
CW:A lot of cutting-edge technology is not cutting-edge when they are installing it any more. I am not sure that is where we want to put our money into that. It is hard to justify raising any of the mill rates for something like that. People don’t access the internet that way; they don’t need that kind of access to the Internet. You have to wait for the right generation gets in the right position to say, “Yes we want that.”
JM:Do you have any seminars where you actually talk to young people in town?
CW:I participate in Salisbury Central programs.
JM:I am talking about high school or college age people that would be more willing to give ideas of about what the town should have, needs and that sort of thing.
CW:I tried to start a youth retention committee in town. It didn’t get any traction, but I am waiting for the right time to re-activate that. It is on the back burner. Joe Woodard of Undermountain Weavers up on Route #41 he and I have put together a youth retention committee. We want to draw in FFA and
other parts of the youth community. All the buildings in town belong to the youth and others in town. Once they realize that they are a stake-holder in all this, they will preserve and protect it.
JM:This is why I try to get youth to do the oral history. It is their town, and their future. If you get them to buy into it, they are protective and they want to help.
JM:You have an interesting hobby with your metal detecting.
CW:I started metal detecting back in the late 1970s. I got away from it for a while and then started up again in the last 10 years. My wife is the Town Clerk (See file #39, Patricia Williams) Donny Stevens came into the town Hall and was getting a burn permit. She said, “Would you please take my husband out with you metal detecting. I am sick of him around the house.” He got in touch with me. We formed a friendship and we do a lot of metal detecting. We go a lot of places, mostly Salisbury. Very seldom do we travel out of Salisbury as there so much history in this town. We are real history buffs. He is also into arrow heads too. He was a big arrow head collector. George Bushnell and he used to go arrow head hunting: George was Patty Stevens father, Donny Steven’s wife. George was a great guy. I went to his memorial mass. They were talking about WWII service> He was in the Army during WWII and he liberated one of the concentration camps. Never would have thought that of him: never did he talk about it or said anything about his service. He would help anybody. He ran the Memorial Day parade when I was a kid. I can remember him doing that, he and Dick Barton. It was such a big deal to watch that parade when I was a kid. It was fun to march in it.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to this interview before we close?
CW:I don’t think so. I think we have covered quite a bit. I really enjoyed it.
JM:Thank you so much for doing this.
CW:Thank you Jean.