CONWAY — Selectmen past and present praised their peacemaking, candy-loving, soon-to-be-retired town manager on Tuesday at the last selectmen's meeting Earl Sires would be attending in an official capacity.
Sires — the longest-serving manager in Conway history, taking that mantle from Arthur Seavey, according to former selectman Mark Hounsell — steps down today after 17 years in the position.
The town manager, who is appointed by selectmen and serves at their pleasure, is chief executive and administrative officer of the town.
Selectmen's chair David Weathers said he's been a selectman for all but the first few months of Sires' career, and he spoke about Sires' management style.
"If Earl didn't happen to agree or was strongly in opposition to what was being said, he would excuse himself and usually look for a piece of hard candy to chew on for a few minutes before he would come in," said Weathers, adding that the manager never lost his cool.
"It's really been a pleasure, and one of the main reasons I ran for selectmen the first time was because Earl was here and I liked what I saw."
Turning to Sires, Weathers said, "I've enjoyed 17 years of working with you, Earl."
Weathers said Sires was able to get the "various factions" of the town to cooperate. "You have a way of getting the people to settle down and make progress and come away with positive results," he told him.
Hounsell, who is on the school board and county commission, said Sires is the only town manager Conway has had in the 21st century.
"These last 17 years have been quite noteworthy," said Hounsell. "Earl has steadied the ship of Conway and in doing so we have seen vast improvements in just about every aspect of our lives."
Hounsell gave examples like improvements in water, sewer, the library and the schools.
Hounsell said Sires' first selectmen's meeting involved a heated discussion about expanding the parking lot near the library. Hounsell said people like himself got wound up.
"Through it all he kept a steady hand," said Hounsell.
Sires succeeded former Town Manager Jim Somerville. He and his wife, Theresa, have three sons: Earl, 30, Jeff, 25, and Sam, 20. Theresa retired this spring after teaching 25 years, with 17 of them at Kennett High as the graphic arts teacher.
After delivering his final town manager's report, Sires said he and Theresa plan to continue living in Conway.
Sires said it was an honor to be town manager here. "I enjoyed almost every day," he said, adding, "There's a few I would probably throw back if I had the opportunity."
Sires wished success to his replacement Tom Holmes, who will change hats from being town assessor come next week.
"He's a bold man to take on the task, knowing what he was getting into," said Sires. "I had the benefit of not knowing what I was getting into."
Holmes also said a few words.
"A number of people have come up to me and said, 'You have awfully big shoes to fill,' and that's true both figuratively and literally," said Holmes. "I count Earl as a supervisor, an adviser, a colleague and a friend. ... He is a special individual. I think everyone realizes that after the number of years he has served this town."
On Wednesday evening, about 100 members of the community, including past and current elected officials and business leaders, gathered at the North Conway Country Club for Sires' retirement party, which was dubbed "Earl Jam" a play on the rock band Pearl Jam.
Anyone who sees Sires out in the community should ask about the video that was played in his honor.
"Earl liked it so much that he's going to have Theresa load it up on YouTube," said Holmes who was the film's actor.
At the party, a proclamation from Gov. Chris Sununu and a letter from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen were read aloud.
"It gives me great pleasure to join your friends, family and colleagues in celebrating your 17 years of service as Conway town manager," wrote Shaheen. "During your years at Town Hall, you helped chart a course toward growth balanced by sustainability, in the pocketbook of citizens and respect for the abundant natural resources of the area."