Rick Merson has worked with Needham, Mass., for 35 years. Photo: Town of Needham, Department of Public Works

Needham, Mass., is redesigning the town business district to make it more pedestrian-friendly and safe. The roads will be narrowed to accommodate crosswalks and sidewalks and the town itself will be beautified. Ironically, when Rick Merson started 35 years ago, the town was expanding the roads to make it mote car-friendly. “Now it's reversing,” he said.

Merson has been with the department of public works for 35 years. He started his public works quest at Boston's Northeastern University, which specialized in cooperative education. Students would go to school while working, preferably in their field. Merson's first co-op assignment was at the Needham Department of Public Works in engineering.

Merson feels one of his best skills is keeping people motivated and directed. “I'm behind the scenes,” he said. “I just try to provide the means and the methods.”

Partway through college, Merson took a full-time job with Needham and completed his education taking night classes, which he feels were more beneficial than day classes. Although night classes had the same topics and professors as a day class, the students were “people who wanted to be there,” he said. “The professors taught people who wanted to learn.” Through this, Merson felt he got a more complete and meaningful education.

Merson also is active in the community. He is a member of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Massachusetts Clean Water Council, Boy Scouts of America, Rotary Club of Needham, and Needham Local Emergency Planning Committee.

For everyday dealings with colleagues or the public, Merson recommends acting with respect and dignity. “That gets you on a higher plane to begin with,” he said. When a problem arises, he advises empathizing with others. “This is a real person with real problems and real issues,” he said. “It may not be big to you at that moment, but it is big to them.”