NEWPORT — Raymond Willis will get to enjoy his retirement for two months when he steps down as a custodian at Newport High School on June 28.
But he’ll be back in action when students return to class on Aug. 29.
And that’s okay with Willis, now 65, after a career of nearly 32 years that started out at $5 an hour, working from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays.
He’ll be coming out of his short retirement when he returns to the school he loves in a part-time position, but not as a custodian.
His new career will take him into the Café Services cafeteria kitchen where he will work four hours each day when school is in session. “That will give me more time to spend with my grandchildren,” he said on Friday while enjoying his lunch.
What will Willis be doing at his new post? “Anything they want me to do,” he quickly replied. The shorter workday is also appealing to Willis who moved to Newport from Grantham when he was 20.
Most importantly, he’ll be with the kids on a daily basis. “I enjoy the kids and would do it all over again if I could. They make me laugh,” he related.
When asked to talk about the toughest part of his job as a veteran custodian, Willis responded immediately. “When kids are upset I’m concerned about them,” he said.
Over his 32 years as custodian, Willis has come to know hundreds of young students. And in many instances, he also got to know their parents when they were students at Newport.
“All the kids are very, very good to me. I think kids have big hearts,” Willis said.
“One day my wife was at the Laundromat and two boys helped bring her laundry in and when it was done brought it back to her car,” he recalled.
During the day Willis comes into contact with many students and faculty members as he does his job.
Willis and Lisa Nelson, another long-time custodian with 13 years of service, take care of the problems that crop up during the day and four more custodians come in later in the day to do the cleaning and perform other tasks.
And those days can be busy. “Sometimes I might have six calls on my radio to respond to and then I may meet the principal or a teacher and they add something to my call list,” he noted.
“The school is the heart of Newport,” according to Willis. Many people don’t look at it like that but it is the heart of Newport,” Willis emphasized.
“Ray is a generous and caring man,” said Kurt Gagne, a junior. “Every single day he asks how you are and shakes your hand. “He’s a good man to have around,” said Reilly Avery, a senior.
And Reilly didn’t stop there. “He’s Newport Ray of Sunshine.”