Best idea: Choosing public works



Service to his country, both overseas and in his hometown, is the driving force behind John Lawlor Jr.'s career as an engineer, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and infrastructure manager.

Before joining Waterbury's public works department 22 years ago, Lawlor worked as an engineer for consulting firms and had been offered a job in Singapore.

When a family member suggested he apply for a job in Connecticut instead, he says, “something inside of me said I ought to take the opportunity.” He figured he'd work for Waterbury awhile before eventually heading for Singapore. But he never got there. “I got a taste of municipal engineering and have been working in the community ever since.”

His travel opportunities didn't end, however.

In 2004, Lawlor took a leave of absence and was deployed to Iraq, where he spent nearly a year as Public Works Team Chief supporting relief and rebuilding efforts. Returning home from a country devastated by war, Lawlor realized his perspective had changed. “It was hard to readjust to American standards of crisis — like a pothole,” he says. “When you have 6 million people and no drinking water, that's a crisis.

“Some people feel the big, multimillion-dollar projects are what enrich the profession,” he continues. “That's great stuff, and I've done those as well. But I still enjoy the personal interaction: shaking people's hands, looking them in the eye, and resolving their problems in short order. I like the easy fixes.”