TRENTON, Maine — The rest of Bob Cossette’s life has been cleared for takeoff.
He didn’t know it when he woke up Sunday morning at his home in Franklin, but the retiring manager of Hancock County Airport had one more thing to attend to before his final day of work. He had to show up at the airport around 11:30 a.m. to be greeted by about 60 people who gathered there for a surprise send-off.
After his daughter Lorraine Cossette met him in Ellsworth under the premise that they were going to have lunch in Bar Harbor, she drove him up to the airport operations building at the Trenton facility. Some people, including his wife, Carolyn Cossette, and county officials, were gathered inside while outside others were grilling chicken and ribs.
“This was a total surprise!” the honoree said. “I didn’t think they would do it!”
Cossette, 63, is retiring from the job he has held for the past 31 years. He first began working for Hancock County in 1976 and has been the manager at the airport since November 1977.
Cossette’s last day at work is expected to be today.
During Cossette’s tenure, officials said Sunday, the airport has become increasingly important to the area’s economy and continually has had to adapt to changes mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration and, in recent years, from the Department of Homeland Security. Since Cossette became airport manager, much of the airport’s infrastructure has been rebuilt or replaced and it has gone from being a taxpayer-funded operation with a five-figure budget to a self-sustaining enterprise with an annual budget of more than $700,000.
“He has taken this from a little pit stop on the ground to what it is today,” Hancock County Commissioner Fay Lawson said at Sunday’s surprise party. “He just does everything perfectly. He is the type of employee you dream about having.”
State Sen. Dennis Damon, who served as a county commissioner from 1992 to 2002, attended the event and read an official statement of sentiment from the Legislature commending Cossette for his years of service to the county.
Before reading the document aloud, Damon said that Cossette has been a “consummate manager.” He said Cossette has been a good advocate for the airport and has always been attentive to keeping commissioners informed.
Cossette — who got a new all-terrain vehicle for his birthday on Friday — said he has no big retirement plans. He said he and his wife likely would travel around the state for the next several weeks, staying in their travel trailer and enjoying the fall.
“I’m planning to take the next two months off,” he said. “I love September and October in Maine.”
Cossette said that he had mixed feelings about walking away but that he knows he is leaving the airport in good hands.
“It’s tough, but it’s got to be done eventually,” he said of retirement. “I think they’ll do very well without me.”
Besides the legislative sentiment, Cossette also received a commemorative plaque from the county, which was read aloud by Lawson, and a recognition from the FAA.
Donna Witte of the FAA’s office in Burlington, Mass., made the trip to Cossette’s retirement party to show appreciation for the work he has done over the past three decades.
“I came up just for this,” Witte said. “He’s a well-respected man.”
Cossette briefly addressed the crowd at the event, saying that many others who work at the airport have helped keep it running smoothly.
“I get a lot of the credit for what gets done here, but it shouldn’t be that way all the time,” he said. “Thanks very much. I do appreciate this.”
With Cossette’s retirement, Assistant Airport Manager Allison Navia is expected to oversee the airport’s daily operations until a permanent replacement for Cossette is hired, according to officials.