PEPPERELL — When information about the severity of April’s floods was needed, Emergency Management Director George Ux had the answer.
He’d been at the Nashua River bridge on Route 119 at 3 a.m., checking his measuring “sticks” placed on both sides of the bridge while the rest of the town slept.
He could have been content monitoring the flood height by computerized satellite readings from electronic probes in the river but the averages they supply wouldn’t have been good enough for him. Ux prefers to know first-hand what’s going on to avoid misinformation.
He’s a hands-on fellow, be it personally warning Town Hall about severe weather or carefully tying up an electric cord in the Pepperell Cemetery Association tool shed where he’s worked as caretaker since 1979 (and later, at the town cemeteries).
By unanimous vote of fire, police, and Town Hall officials, Ux is Pepperell’s nominee for the Nashoba Publishing 2007 Extraordinary Service Award.
These folks know him best. Ux was one of the first auxiliary police officers — helping start the force when former police Chief John Pelletier and Sgt. (later chief) Monsel Babin “were” the entire Police Department. He was the police photographer for 20 years.
Ux had wanted to be a firefighter, but the closest he got, as a collector of antique vehicles, was purchasing an old ladder truck.
“I’m not one of the good old boys (a native Pepperellite),” he said. “I’ve been here nearly 50 years but I’m just passing through. I have a lot of names right here in this cemetery though.”
He gives a great imitation of a townie, however, having arrived in 1958 from a one-year residency in Groton that followed a youth in Wakefield and Pottstown, Pa.
George and his wife, Joan, raised three sons in town — Ken (an auto body specialist); Hollis, N.H., police Chief Russell Ux (who “used to carry my gear at accidents”); and Alan (a construction site manager). Joan Ux drove a school bus. They have five grandchildren.
A Boy Scout in since 1946, Ux became Cubmaster of Pack 41 prior to 1960 and Scoutmaster of Troop 26 for the following 40-odd years. Awards, photographs, knot displays and remnants of model railroading in the second floor of his Tucker Avenue garage tell a tale of long involvement with young people. He still collects cans from the transfer station to raise money for his Scout troop.
An amazing mass of memorabilia speaks volumes about his exuberance for life. A full woodworking shop dominates the rear of the garage. His antique vehicles are safely locked in another location.
Ux retired after 40 years of work at Murray Printing Company and Courier Corporation in Westford then became more involved with his town.
The son of a World War II merchant seaman who was a veteran of nine voyages to Murmansk, Russia, and who died at age 57, Ux had been the “man of the house” from age 8 for his family of eight. He credits his late father for the car hobby interest.
“He had a ’26 boat tail Rolls Royce Roadster. I’m still looking for it,” Ux said.
Ux became the town’s Civil Defense director in 1966.
“Responsibilities were not as dominant then but by 9/11 changed a lot. I’ve gone through 10 program changes and there’ll be another coming from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency),” he said.
“One of the things I’ve been partial to are the Ham (radio) operators and the auxiliary being part of my network. The LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) has many meetings involving everyone in public safety,” he said. Ux is also the district emergency planning chairman.
The measuring sticks on the Nashua River bridge were an Eagle Scout project Ux thought up so he could tell the differences in water depth when trees lodged against the bridge backed the water up. He once took photos to prove to disbelieving state engineers there was a one-foot difference.
“The Nashua is fed in part by the Wachusett Reservoir at the Clinton dam and the Squannacook and Nissitissit,” he explained. I’ve got a one-inch thick book from a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority study of damage if the dam breaches. It would take 11 hours for water to get here. If I told you how damaging it would be, you wouldn’t sleep at night.”
One pet gripe is criticism of “hyping” by the media following the release of severe storm warnings if they don’t happen. Ux chose to privately warn town hall officials.
“What if a tornado came and we didn’t warn?” he asked. “We want to avoid the scare by using reverse 911. Messages would say call 311 instead of 911.” The new system will make automated warning calls by phone to alert residents to danger.
“I won’t beat around the bush. We are undermanned at the Communications Center (yet) I won’t let my Hams work there,” Ux continued. “They want to but I need them to watch their neighborhoods.”
He said his assistant director, firefighter and computer network administrator Den Connors “has been a big asset to this community and earned his keep.”
Police Chief Alan Davis, who is the fourth chief Ux has worked with, describes Ux as “a genuine, great guy who is looking out for the town.
“He epitomizes volunteerism, doing a lot with very little formal recognition. I’ve known him since 1975 and he’s never said a bad word about anyone,” Davis said. “He’s a guy in time of disaster who holds power but he involves everyone in the decision-making process without a lot of fanfare. Pepperell has a tremendous amount of stability and people like George fit in well to maintain it,” the chief said.
Deputy Fire Chief Peter Shattuck calls Ux “a pure example of a person willing to give more of himself to his community. He has provided volunteer service his whole life.”
“He still goes to Emergency Management meetings and also finds time to get the monthly food pick for our seniors. He takes care of Pepperell’s cemetery for very little money and is also the keeper of the flag at the town hall,” Shattuck said.
“George can tell a good story and loves to talk to just about anyone. Always, he will give you another idea or another way to do things. He always offers to help someone in need,” Shattuck said. “George, you earned this award, hands down.”
Town administrator Robert Hanson put it more simply.
“You don’t have to go looking for George. He’s just — well — there,” Hanson said.
“I used to visit Slocum Farm when I was 12,” Ux said. “It was an all-day trip from Wakefield in a ’37 Packard, (it was) like coming to the end of the earth.” A lot has changed over the years.
“When people now say ‘Wow, this is the boonies’ I tell them to look around. The population was 3,500 and now it’s 12,000. We have a progressive Police and Fire department. Then came the sewers and the highway. It’s amazing how the town has grown,” Ux said.
“After all the looking around I’ve done, I don’t think I’d live anywhere but Pepperell,” he said.