A reputation for adaptation and skill 

Meet 2022 Warren County ESP of the Year Robert Lilly 

Working in the Maintenance Department of Phillipsburg Public Schools, Robert Lilly has mastered many skills, including electrical, plumbing, concrete work, HVAC and roofing.  

“Many years ago, I fell into a job with an electrical contractor who trained me in everything I needed to know,” Lilly remembers. “As a contractor, you have to adapt and pick up whatever work they need you to do. I used to kid him that the only thing he never taught me to do was how to lay brick—and his dad was a mason! But he taught me everything else.”  

Later, Lilly was working for a cable company. When he was laid off, he applied for an opening in Phillipsburg.  

“I thought this would be secure,” he says. “And I’ve been here for 25 years.”  

Lilly enjoys how different each day in the schools is and the opportunity to work with a team.  

“We have three guys in our districtwide Maintenance Department who go building to building,” Lilly says. “And what happens with the three of us is people forget about us because they don’t see us every day. The building-based guys are more integrated into the schools.”  

For that reason, Lilly was surprised to be named the 2022 Warren County ESP of the Year, but he appreciates the honor. 

“I take that recognition as acknowledgement of the work my team and I do,” Lilly says. “I’m happy to work alongside my colleagues John Turnbull and Jim Miczulski.”  

Lilly spends more time problem-solving than thinking about accolades.  

“Schools need people who can make things work and fix things without expensive repairs,” he says. “We have to work with the budgets we’re given. When I first started in the district, one of the old-timers who trained me told me that when they tell you there’s no more money for materials and supplies, you go to the agriculture teacher who does projects with the Future Farmers of America, because he has been fundraising and has money for projects.” 

At the same time, Lilly knows he is providing an example for students who may not be thriving in school. 

“History was my favorite subject,” Lilly says. “I love museums and going to old buildings and seeing the old construction methods. But not everyone is built for college. The trades are a great career path for many students. There are kids you might not be able to reach with a book, but you can reach with a tool bag.”  

Lilly also makes his voice heard when it comes to health and safety issues. After 25 years on the job, he’s built a reputation for adaptation and skill that has made him an invaluable asset to the entire school community.  

“I’m not one for the recognition aspect of things,” Lilly says. “I like what I do. I believe I do my job and do it well. I know what I can do. I’m keeping our buildings safe and healthy, especially these past couple of years. What means more to me is when a principal or someone brings us doughnuts and says, ‘I appreciate what you did.’ I don’t need fanfare. But a doughnut is nice. I can have that with my coffee.”