MONTROSE – After 37 years of service to the City of Montrose, and many recent months spent battling cancer, Montrose City Manager Mary Watt is stepping down from her job.
Watt hasn’t been able to work since late last spring, and although she acknowledges she’s been receiving treatment for cancer, she doesn’t to go into details about her illness these days.
But her treatment “is going very well,” Watt said, and she looks forward to retirement with her husband Jim, a former Colorado state trooper, as she took a few moments to reflect on her time with the city.
Watt started to work for the city in 1973, first as assistant city manager and then as city clerk for 25 years – from 1979 to 2004 – while also doubling as administrative services director from 1993 to 2005, when she was selected as city manager.
In all that time, she’s seen “tremendous” changes in Montrose and has loved her work.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of projects, from running elections and even code enforcement, and had the opportunity to work on a lot of committees,” she said.
“It’s been a real joy to do that.”
When Mary and Jim moved to Montrose in 1973, they used to joke that the only traffic light was at the corner of Townsend Avenue and Main Street, which at the time was probably close to the truth.
The town grew from “around 3,000 or 4,000” at the time, Watt said, and is about 18,000 today, more than quadrupling in size. That makes Watt appreciate her co-workers, the unsung heroes who keep the city running, day and night.
“They all work for the betterment of the community, and I appreciate that,” she said.
Montrose has changed a lot in the last 40-odd years, she said, and there weren’t a lot of amenities back when she and Jim first moved here.
“Now there are a lot of public facilities – the swimming pool, the Pavilion and the airport expansion,” she said, “and the park system has grown substantially.”
Like every other town in these parts – or the country – Montrose’s biggest problem right now is the economy, Watt said, but she has hope for the future.
“My hope for the community is that the economy will stabilize and we can bring in more jobs,” she said. “We need to bring awareness that Montrose is somewhere to come and visit, and stay and prosper in all those kinds of ways.”
Watt has been through a tremendous ordeal for the past few months, but she said she and the council have worked together on her separation agreement, which the council approved Tuesday night.
Councilmember Bill Patterson said the agreement was in accord with Watt’s contract, except for an allowance to carry her husband on her health insurance for six months.
The provisions of the separation agreement allow Watt to receive her full salary through July 3, at which time she will also receive a lump sum for a year’s worth of COBRA payments for health and dental insurance, but only for herself.
Patterson said he was relieved that Watt had decided to step down for the sake of her health.
“I’m glad she said, ‘No, I want to focus on the rest of my life,’” Patterson said, and he praised her service.
“Mary was always dedicated to her job and tried to do her best for Montrose, and worked hard in all her positions, from city clerk to city manager,” he said. “Anything you wanted to know, you went and asked Mary.”
That’s just what Scott Sellers still does, he said. Sellers, who was assistant city manager, was recently appointed acting city manager. As he fills Watt’s shoes, Sellers said she’s always been his mentor.
“She’s definitely prepared me, in the two years we worked side-by-side, very well to step in as acting city manager,” he said. “I was able to learn from her leadership, and there are certain decisions I’ve had to make in her absence, but I still go to her for advice and I will continue to have a great relationship with her.”
But for now, Mary is focusing more on other relationships: her husband Jim, son Jimmy and daughter-in-law Maggie, and their baby James, born in November.
“Now that we’re both retired and new grandparents, we’ll probably go for visits to Denver to see our grandson, but other than that, no immediate plans,” Watt said.