A few special people in this world can coach soccer, square dance, manage a multimillion-dollar budget and love the same job for 42 years. Tom Hubbard, deputy city manager of South Burlington, is one of those people.
After over four decades of working in city government, from the recreation and parks department to financial management, Hubbard will retire at the end of June.
Looking back on his career, Hubbard sees the relationships he’s made as the highlights — the kids he’s coached who grew up to join the recreation department, the families he’s met through annual barbeques, the colleagues he’s learned from and mentored.
“Those partnerships help build a level of trust and respect for residents, employees, the departments and the community at large. I think that’s what I’m most proud of,” he said.
Holly Rees, current director of the recreation and parks department, joked that when Hubbard leaves, the city will lose its ‘hub’ — the center of the wheel where all of the spokes connect.
“We’ll miss him at the heart of everything,” said Rees. But knowing him, she added, Hubbard is not leaving for good.
A people person at heart
Hubbard began his career as assistant director in the South Burlington recreation and parks department in 1979, his first job straight out of college. He studied recreation, business administration and political science in school, and was just a few credits short of finishing a business major.
He soon climbed up to manage the department as recreation director, where he started many programs and events that are now community staples: summer sports, cook-outs, music nights, square dances, holiday festivities, potlucks, after-school activities and more.
In 2004, Sports Illustrated named South Burlington the number one Community Sports Town in Vermont, thanks in part to the various programs and events Hubbard started during his tenure as director.
Around the same time, Veteran’s Memorial Park was also recognized as a facility of merit by the state of Vermont.
Rees remembers Hubbard as a young parent coaching soccer games with a baby on his back, dancing with his family at the Valentine’s Day dance and handing out goodies on Halloween.
“He grew a lot of families and grew a lot of heart in South Burlington,” Rees said.
She first met Hubbard when she was 16, applying to be a summer camp counselor in the South Burlington recreation department. She worked in various day and afterschool camps throughout high school and college before joining the team as a permanent member, and eventually rising to manage the department like Hubbard himself.
“There’s not often an interaction with Tom that doesn’t feel as though you’ve just visited with a neighbor or a friend,” she said.
This is important to Hubbard and part of what fuels his leadership style.
“I am who I am whether you’re engaging with me at the office or you see me at the grocery store. That’s important to me,” said Hubbard. The best way to manage a team and create a positive work environment is through empowering others and encouragement, he said — “it’s always been a team approach.”
In addition to the creation of many community events, Rees credited Hubbard with advocating for added connectivity along the recreation path which stretches over 27 miles; as well as catalyzing the city’s purchase of the Underwood property for future generations.
Rees described him as a “people person at heart,” whose sense of humor — and sweet tooth — naturally builds relationships with staff and community members.
One way to his heart? Jellybeans.
Becoming deputy city manager
In 2013, Hubbard moved on from the recreation and parks department to become deputy city manager, which he recalled as one of the more challenging times in his career.
The South Burlington city council had just fired city manager Sandy Miller after two years on the job, and appointed Kevin Dorn as the interim replacement.
The feeling among city staff was pretty downcast, Hubbard recalled, but after Dorn was officially hired as city manager and he named Hubbard as deputy, the duo set about mending relationships.
“There was some empowering that needed to be built with staff again and partnerships that needed to be rebuilt. We came in at a fairly difficult time but I think we did a good job in overcoming some of the challenges that Kevin and I were faced with,” said Hubbard.
What stuck out to Dorn as he cast a net looking for a second, was Hubbard’s “way with people.”
“It was a balance between a lot of factors — his empathy and friendliness; he’s firm when he needs to be but generous with his time with staff ... Every single one of his staff respects him and admires him,” Dorn said. “I have utter and complete trust in him. For a manager and deputy, if you don’t have that, you don’t have a relationship.”
He’s cherished working alongside Hubbard for the last eight years, but what he’ll remember most is their friendship.
“Tom Hubbard is the best deputy city manager anywhere, ever, and I believe that,” Dorn said.
He will also retire at the end of the fiscal year. Around the same time, city staff will move to new offices at City Center, a project that’s been in the works for decades. Watching the growth of City Center has also been a highlight of Hubbard’s career, he said.
“I can remember back in the mid 80s when City Center was just beginning to be talked about,” he said. “To be here long enough to actually see the fruition of that has certainly been rewarding.”
What’s next for Hubbard?
As a people person, Hubbard is grateful to spend his last weeks on the job working in person with his colleagues. The isolation of COVID-19 was difficult, he recalled, since community seems to be the thing that kept him coming back to work for 42 years.
In retirement, he’s looking forward to spending time with his five grandchildren — number six on the way — and enjoying summer.
“I’m not going anywhere.”