HARVARD — Tuesday night was Selectman Lucy Wallace’s final meeting, the last time she would sit on the board side of the table at a selectmen’s meeting.
After 25 years in town government, Wallace chose not to run for re-election. At the next scheduled meeting in two weeks, a new member will have been elected to the five-person board.
Midway through the meeting, as the time closed in on the public comment period, people started pouring into the nearly empty Town Hall meeting room, filling it to capacity. Right on cue, resident Paul Green stepped up to the microphone.
“I have been asked to speak on behalf of a group of Harvard citizens,” he said, representing residents, taxpayers and voters “all over this small town.”
“The Board of Selectmen is responsible for ensuring the safety of our residents,” he said. From his preamble, which continued to describe the selectmen’s duties in elaborate detail, including its role in the community, which in turn weaves it into the fabric of others around it, he might have been delivering a petition, perhaps speaking out against or in favor of one of the warrant articles the selectmen would later parcel out among themselves to present at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting. He might have had a gripe to air or a business matter to address. But his purpose was more singular. He was there to deliver an appreciation speech that was all about the retiring selectman, Lucy Wallace.
“We look to this body for inspiration, he said. “We believe that a selectman should exhibit dedication to the task of governing this town.” Model selectmen articulate choices and illuminate consequences, do their homework and should stand up for the best interests of the town, even if their viewpoint is unpopular. Someone “each of us can strive to emulate,” he said. They exhibit “grace under pressure,” and use humor to lighten a heavy mood.
“We want selectmen who know” that the community’s decision-making process can be as important as the decision itself “because a good process breeds trust,” Green said.
“We often lose sight of the incredible dedication, knowledge and experience that the members of this board bring to their deliberations,” he said. “Sometimes, we only recognize the value of an individual long after they have left the stage.”
Not this time, though.
“There is a selectman here tonight who is attending her final, regularly scheduled meeting of the Harvard selectmen, and who we believe exhibits all of these qualities in abundance,” he said. “She has dedicated 25 years to serving on various official boards and committees and has won election to this board four times.”
“Even if you disagree with her positions, you must admire her sterling example of service to the town,” he continued. On behalf of everyone present and there in spirit, he called for a round of applause. He got a resounding response, and Wallace got a standing ovation.
Willie Wickman presented Wallace with a gift, a wall-sized photo of ripe red apples, a symbol of a town famed or its apple orchards.
When the hoopla died down, Wallace had her say. “Thank you for the honor of serving you all for the last 25 years,” she said. One of the things she admires most about the community she and her husband Jim have lived in for 30 years is how hard residents work to preserve the town, she said. “It’s a great legacy to be part of.”
Wallace had a few departing words of advice. The selectmen from now on will be a relatively “young” board with just one woman on it, Marie Sobalvarro. She hopes “many more” will serve in years to come, she said., and that some of the young families who have moved into town over the last several years will contribute, too.
It’s time for “an old timer” to move on, she continued. Comparing the quintessentially New England entity to a “five-headed mayor,” she admonished members to “be respectful” of each other and to those who come before the board, and urged them to “try to avoid the acrimony that seems to be spreading” across the nation.
From now on, she’ll watch the proceedings from home, with Jim and their dog, she said.
“Now you can all go; we’ve got work to do.”