Town Assessor Walter Lawrence, who will be retiring in May, has seen a lot in his 38 years in town.
"I came into a firestorm," he said of his transition from an assessor's aide in Manchester to Tolland's offices in the mid-1970s. Lawrence served as Tolland's first single assessor after the elected Board of Assessors resigned.
"On the desk were records and files that hadn't been updated for six, seven months," Lawrence said of his chaotic beginnings in Tolland in January of 1974.
Lawrence explained that the Board of Assessors had just completed a messy revaluation of town that had angered many residents. Deeds hadn't been updated. The grand list had to be completed by hand and typewriter. And it was due at the end of the month.
"It was quite interesting for those few formative years," he said.
Undaunted by the challenging clean up, Lawrence hired an assistant, and the two got to work cataloging the grand list of Tolland, which Lawrence estimated had around 2,500 residents at the time.
His assistant sat down with a typewriter and added each column of the massive grand list book in her head while Lawrence checked her work on an adding machine.
"She amazed me," Lawrence remarked, still impressed 38 years later.
By March of 1974, Tolland had a correct and proper grand list.
And so went the first three chaotic months of Lawrence's career in town.
Things didn't really slow down in the assessor's office. Lawrence collaborated on some of the first assessing software, using a program in town that would later be adopted throughout the state.
"We were pioneers in engineering that software program," he said of his landmark work with programmers William Reudgen and Jeff Johnson.
Shortly afterwards, he waged a brief war with telephone companies as town employees strung wires between the old town hall (the current Arts of Tolland building) and offices in the Old Tolland County Jail to connect the computers to run the new software.
"The telephone companies didn't like that," he recalled. "They would come cut the wires off."
And in the 1980s and 1990s Lawrence witnessed Tolland's dramatic growth into a bustling town. He recalled that Tolland still had stray cows wandering by town hall when he first started his job.
After watching the town's transformation first-hand, Lawrence said that he believes Tolland should prepare for another period of change.
"Tolland has always been a town of high interest to everybody," he said. "The town is growing fast. And being on the corridor here, the village concept and the interest of builders in the area, it's right at the point where if UConn develops its high-tech center, Tolland's going to be at the gateway."
And while the latest phase in Tolland's development has just begun, Lawrence said he is optimistic for the town.
"I think Tolland has a bright future ahead of it."
Town Manager Steven Werbner said that Lawrence will be missed.
"Walter conducts his business with the highest of ethical standards and has treated all residents fairly in the determination of property values," he said. "I am sorry to see Walter leave the town’s service, however, after all the years of dedicated service he gave to this community, Walter is deserving of many healthy and happy retirement years. All town employees wish him the best in his future endeavors."
Lawrence has been recognized a number of times throughout his career, including a Distinguished Service Award from the Connecticut Association of Assessing Officers. Lawrence served as the CAAO President in 1992, as well.
After his last day on May 3, Lawrence said he will focus on spending time with his eight grandchildren and may possibly travel.