SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Ben Harper, who retired this year after 37 years as emergency dispatcher for the town, was honored Monday for his service in a ceremony at the police station.
Harper, a Tremont native, started his marathon stint on Jan. 20, 1980. His official retirement date is June 24, 2017, but Chief Alan Brown might dispute whether Harper has fully retired. Harper, working unpaid, routinely comes into the police station to offer advice and help train other dispatchers. He is noted for his encyclopedic memory of the town and its people as well.
“He’s still a resource,” Brown said.
During his tenure, Harper worked for seven police chiefs and saw dozens of officers and dispatchers come and go. His work has included routine matters like issuing burn permits to coordinating emergency response during fires and accidents and, once, being alone in the station with a man wanted for murder, who arrived at 3 a.m., and keeping him calm until the police chief could arrive.
Harper didn’t set out to be a dispatcher. After graduating from the University of Maine, he taught math at Connors Emerson School. That proved unsatisfactory.
“I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the principal,” he said.
The school system’s loss was Southwest Harbor’s gain. Harper happened to see that the town was advertising for dispatchers. He called the chief, Raymond Couture.
“He said, ‘When can you start?’” Harper recalled. There was no interview process. After an all-too-brief training period, he found himself alone on his first day.
Harper’s public service isn’t limited to his work as dispatcher. He joined the Tremont Volunteer Fire Department as a teenager, eventually becoming assistant chief, and was a longtime member of the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Ambulance Service and was head of the organization for about 11 years.