Wilmington has seldom had a 24-hour diner, as there has never been much demand. On cold, stormy nights when snow plow drivers would work through the night, though, they would be desperately wanting some coffee and a hot meal.
Highway Supt. Bob Palmer came up with the answer. Town plow trucks would frequently stop at the North Wilmington parking lot, where the town’s sand pile was located. And Winston’s Coffee Shop was right there. Palmer arranged to have Steve Winston open the shop in the wee hours during snowstorms. The shop would be jumping with business at 2 or 3 a.m. Then the plow crews would go back to work, well-fed and happy.
That was typical of the good-spirited management style of Bob Palmer. In the 30 years that he ran the Highway Department, later the D.P.W., Wilmington’s roads were consistently in excellent shape. If you were to drive through the area after a storm, it was quite noticeable when you crossed the town line into Wilmington.
Kids in the Wilmington schools would wonder how Wilmington could have school, when all the other towns didn’t. On storm days, the superintendent of schools would consult with Palmer. More often than not, the streets would be fine, so there would be school.
Palmer had been on the Highway Dept. for 15 years when Supt. Jimmy White retired in 1968. He was appointed superintendent by Town Manager Sterling Morris. Eventually, the department became the Dept. of Public Works, and as other department heads retired, the cemetery, tree and water departments were brought into the D.P.W. Palmer always said those changes were not his doing. But he was a capable manager, always willing to take on the responsibility. The D.P.W. also handled vehicle maintenance for the town.
Before Wilmington had an assistant town manager, Palmer would serve as interim manager during vacations. After he had retired, he served on the Finance and the Board of Selectmen. Bob Palmer died last week at age 87.
One story about him was from December 1964. A deer had been frequenting the area around North Street. People were concerned that it might be hit, as it sometimes crossed Route 62. Andre LeFave of the Highway Dept. called state Fisheries & Game Dept. and was told if the deer could be captured unharmed, it would be placed in a zoo. The department sent two officers to Wilmington.
Meanwhile, a large crowd of people had gathered off North Street, watching the deer. They tried to corral it in a garage, but it easily jumped a fence and crossed Carolyn Road, headed toward Pine Ridge Road.
As the spectators closed in again, Palmer ran and made a flying tackle, catching the doe’s hind legs.
With the doe on the ground, LeFave pounced on its head and began to truss its front legs. The deer was unhurt, but Palmer sustained an injury to the little finger of his left hand.
A few minutes later, three police cruisers arrived with officers Mercier, Cuoco and John Ritchie, who had tackled a fleeing suspect two weeks earlier.
As the doe was taken away, Palmer turned to Ritchie and said, “I’ve gone you one better — I got one with four legs!”