ST. ALBANS CITY — Allen Robtoy’s story is not one of rags to riches. It’s better than that.
It’s a story of a man who grew up in hardscrabble poverty and became, as the result of hard work, ability and a good heart, a pillar of the community in the truest sense, as an essential support on which the weight of the building rests.
Mr. Robtoy retired on Friday, after 40 years of working for the City of St. Albans.
“Some of my first memories of the city were going with my mother to the poor master,” Robtoy told the crowd of about 100 well-wishers who gathered at the city’s public works garage on Friday.
To a young Allen, there were two St. Albans – the west side where he lived and the east side where his family went for help. That west side, known as “the blocks” or the “tree streets,” was where, 100 years ago, the workers who ran the railroad and iron works lived.
“I’m not at all ashamed of it,” Robtoy said of his childhood.
In eighth grade, he took part in a program for the children of poor families. “We certainly fit the bill,” he said. The program got him a job in the city’s public works department.
“It was almost as if it was destiny for me,” said Robtoy. His grandfather, Leo Brace, had worked for the department. His uncle, Fred “Manny” Brace, was a foreman for the city in the 50’s, and three of Robtoy’s brothers worked for the city.
In his remarks, Robtoy praised Brian Burns and Brian Willett, along with other members of the city staff, which in his words has a lot of “horsepower.” Burns is a superintendent in the public works department and Willett supervises the water and wastewater departments.
Robtoy’s replacement as the director of public works, Matt Mulheron, worked for Robtoy before moving the fire department. He assumes his new duties today.
“I’m happy and proud to say all the people in key positions are people I brought in,” said Robtoy. “Over the years, I got a lot of credit for getting things done… but you don’t get it done without guys like that.”
Mentioned many times throughout the event was longtime city manager, the late Bill Cioffi. “He was probably the mentor, my mentor,” said Robtoy.
Mike Boulerice, the city’s former recreation director, said he and other department heads always puzzled over why Cioffi would cut their budget proposals, but leave Robtoy’s alone. But they finally figured it out. “Allen is Bill Cioffi’s adopted son,” he said.
To which Robtoy answered, “I’m very proud of that.”
He’s also proud of the legacy he’s leaving behind. Several years ago, Robtoy said he wanted to replace the city’s sidewalks and have “something to hang my hat on besides plugged sewers.” He convinced the council to ask the public for $50,000 to replace some sidewalk. After voters approved the request year after year, the amount was raised to $80,000, finally culminating in a $4 million bond vote to replace sidewalks and curbs throughout the city.
Robtoy’s family, including his mother and wife, were present at the event. He’s been with his wife, Cheryl, who also retired on Friday, “almost as long as I’ve been with the city,” Robtoy said.
To read more about Robtoy’s story, pick up a copy of Tuesday’s Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.