AYER — Janet Lewis has quite a history with this town.
In her 30 years working as the Board of Selectmen’s secretary, she’s seen 24 selectmen, six town administrators, six police chiefs, four fire chiefs and five treasurers come and go.
A record, she admits, that’s pretty good.
“But time to move on, while I’ve got my health and energy,” she said, sitting in her office at Town Hall. “It’s time. It’s just time.”
Time, that is, for a glorious retirement that begins Friday, two days after which she’ll head straight to the airport for a tour of Europe.
But Lewis will be taking a large chunk of Ayer’s history with her, as a secretary who has witnessed plenty of changes in town government over the years.
When she came to Town Hall in 1983 after working for the Ayer school system, a lot of work went straight to the selectmen’s office.
“Planning, zoning, conservation commission, board of health — everything was done here,” she said. “They would send us out, we would try to give them as much support as we could.”
The setup provided plenty for Lewis to do, juggling parking tickets or water bills or building permits in her office.
“It was a busy, busy place,” she said. “You were just jumping every five minutes.”
But now, all these departments handle these tasks in their own offices — a testament, she explained, to the big things that have happened to Ayer.
Lewis remembers the challenging times, too — particularly when Fort Devens closed after years of the threat of it shutting down.
“Somehow we hung on, we hung on, and then finally that string got cut and they did close,” she said. “It was difficult for the retailers to get back on their feet. They lost a lot.”
But Lewis stayed long enough to see the rebirth of Main Street, noting Calvin Moore’s work with keeping the space alive and the arrival of the Markoh’s and Lucia’s restaurants.
“All these little stores that we used to have are gone, but now these bigger and better restaurants have come into town and they’re beautiful, it’s wonderful.” she said. “Main Street has come alive again.”
Lewis boasts about the “wonderful, wonderful selectmen” she has had throughout the years, arguing that people don’t realize how much time they put into their positions.
“Some of them have passed and some of them have moved on, but the majority are still here in Ayer and that’s a good thing,” she said, looking fondly at a list she compiled of all the people she’s served under. “They brought a lot of resources to the town through their hard work. Each and every one of them have something to tip their hat to.”
The list includes a range of people, from selectman Irene Miller — whom Lewis cites as Ayer’s first female selectman — to Town Administrator Jeff Hull — now working as town manager in Wilmington — to Police Chief Arthur Boisseau.
“It’s really not been about me, it’s been truly about these remarkable people that I’ve worked with,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable what they’ve brought and contributed to this town, and I’ve been blessed to have been a part of working with them.”
And Town Hall employees feel blessed to have worked with Lewis.
Assistant Town Clerk Lauri Fritz said she hates to see Lewis go.
When Fritz first came to Town Hall working for multiple boards, Lewis taught her everything she knew.
“If I needed to know anything, I would always go to her because she already had the experience and knew everything, and she knew everybody,” Fritz said.
Ask anyone on the street, Fritz said, and they will tell you Lewis is a very loving, caring person.
“She’s always been very kindhearted,” Fritz said. “She’d give you the shirt off her back if she could.”
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand has learned a lot from Lewis during his four years working with her.
“Her institutional knowledge has been invaluable to me,” he said. “She knows the history of the town, the Town Hall, she knows everybody.”
Pontbriand described Lewis as a true resident of Ayer and a dear friend.
“She has an enormous heart, and she’s going to be greatly missed,” he said.
Pontbriand’s received more than 100 applicants for the selectmen secretary position, and Lewis leaves big shoes to fill. She was presented with a citation from state Sen. Jamie Eldridge for her work over the years.
But traveling, camping and quality water time on Lake Champlain lay ahead in Lewis’ retirement.
“I’m stepping out into a very, very, very good life,” she said. “And I’m happy, I’m very happy. I’ve been very, very blessed.”
Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.