ROCKPORT — In any town office in New England, you’ll know who the Town Clerk is: They will move efficiently from the front desk, registering a citizen’s new car, or walking a resident through property tax payments. The next minute, they may be on a Zoom conference with Maine’s Secretary of State, conferring on upcoming elections and these days they might be discussing how to deescalate any confrontations at the polls.
For Linda Greenlaw, longtime Rockport Town Clerk, this is all part of the job that is foundational to the U.S. democratic process. A job that she is winding down, anticipating her last day of work to be January 5, 2023.
Which means the November 8 election will be the last one over which she presides. It is a bittersweet career marker, but she is ready to prepare a new clerk for a municipal position that bears much responsibility and attention to detail.
After every election, when the polls close and the counting of ballots concludes, Greenlaw will retreat alone to her office. There, she will intently pore over the numbers, tabulating and re-tabulating, a trusty manual calculator firing away beneath her always impeccably polished fingernails.
Only when she has determined she is done that she’ll emerge, papers in hand.
“You ready,” she will ask, a smile in her eyes. Those still in the room – a handful of volunteer poll workers, municipal staff and the press — will respond, “Tell us!”
In Rockport, controversial warrant articles or competitive candidate races are often the norm, and concurrently, the level of town chatter rises. Greenlaw is old-school Rockport, growing up just a few houses away from the existing town office, with four siblings and her parents, Mary and Cecil Dennison. She knows the community inside and out.
But she is the Rockport Town Clerk, and carries all that she knows with discretion. Her role, like her colleagues all over the country, is to act in the best interest of the community, preserving its vital records and maintaining integrity of elections.
She will know in a given year who has been born, died and married. She will know who is struggling to pay property taxes, who generously donates anonymously to the town. And she is always cares.
“While those who work in town government often find this line of work later in life, Linda was born to be Rockport’s town clerk,” said Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke, himself a Rockport native. “Linda was there when I first registered to vote, when I was sworn in as a selectman, and when I was hired to be our town manager.”
Rockport Town Office has a giant walk-in fireproof safe inside a room with no windows and a metal door — the vault, as Greenlaw calls it.
It is history-central to the town, and old documents are archived there under her watchful eye, and where memorabilia, even artwork, is stored. She especially loves the work of keeping the town’s stories, as well, and periodically publishes a compendium of Rockport tales written by Rockport residents she seeks out and asks for their contributions.
But after 25 years as Town Clerk, two years as Deputy Town Clerk, and seven years prior to that as officer coordinator for the Town of Thomaston, she looks forward to taking a break.
When she first began her municipal work in Thomaston, in 1989, she was “40-ish”, she said. Married to Walter Greenlaw, the two had raised a daughter, and Linda was going to back to work full-time.
In Thomaston, she was immersing herself in registrations and tax liens, when Rockport’s former Town Clerk, Brenda Richardson, decided she needed to train a successor.
“Brenda actually stole me from Thomaston,” said Greenlaw.
Her morning commute got shorter, and she worked under Brenda for 18 months, becoming Rockport’s Town Clerk in July 1998.
“With her years of experience in Thomaston, and being a Rockport native and living in Rockport, it seemed a win-win,” said Richardson. “Within a short time, I could tell Linda loved her town and took her clerk responsibilities seriously.”
Richardson was impressed by Greenlaw’s attention to detail and adherence to the laws, while remaining flexible with citizens.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that Linda was just the person I wanted to care for Rockport after I retired,” said Richardson. “I knew she would serve our town well, and she has done so.”
In the late 1990s, fewer citizens were voting and the population of Rockport was smaller. Election reesults were counted by hand.
“Then, we were able to purchase two refurbished tabulators,” said Greenlaw. “It made it a lot easier.”
Election Year 2008, however, was a turning point.
By law, Town Clerks must attend the party caucuses and record the votes. Those happen in late winter, and in 2008, despite the raw weather, party members were turning out in force at the Rockport Opera House, as Obama and McCain vied to be their respective candidates.
“Typically, you would be lucky to have a dozen people at the caucus,” she said. “That year, we had them lined up down the street.”
Election Year 2004 had also been a ringer, though not as intense.
“That could have been the year I was here alone,” said Greenlaw. “Heaven [Greenlaw’s granddaughter] was probably 15. She stepped up and was a huge help” greeting people, writing down their names and maintaining procedural order.
There’s not one aspect of the job that Greenlaw dislikes. She gets to meet new people, as well as visiting with citizens who have been in town for years.
“We have a lot of people come and go,” she said.
“One particular Fourth of July, someone demanded that I go into the town office to process a birth certificate,” she said. “They needed it before a flight.”
But Greenlaw politely declined, and so, “they called the town manager.”
Greenlaw, in turn, was called to go back to the town office to process the birth certificate. And as it turned out, the people missed the flight, anyhow.
But most of the time, it has been a dream job for her and one she will miss.
“It was a hard decision, but I am getting tired and have things in my personal life that I want to do,” she said.
Greenlaw will not be sitting idle, and come Monday morning post-retirement, she will be on the move. Greenlaw already serves on the town’s Cemetery Working Group, and the nonprofit Legacy Rockport. And, at some point she plans to run for Select Board.
“I know municipal government and how the budget works, as well knowing a lot of the residents, and how they would like the town to be,” she said.
What do they want? Less of a tax burden and a desire to maintain Rockport’s way of life — rural, unpretentious and connected.
She steps down January 5, and the town will be holding a retirement party for her on Jan. 8, at the Rockport Opera House, from 2 to 5 p.m. (All are invited; stay tuned for more details about that celebration). There will be music, because Linda Greenlaw, was once was part of the the Twin Town Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps [she was a Color Guard leader], and loves a good band. There will be good food, and time to enjoy Rockport neighbors and friends.
Greenlaw’s father, Cecil Dennison, a former volunteer fire chief, will be there in spirit.
“He is the one who would be most proud of me,” she said.
“Linda’s love for Rockport, past and present, is immense and she will be impossible to replace,” said Duke.
Richardson, who volunteers now at the polls every election cycle in June and November, acknowledges change.
I know Rockport will continue to grow, but it’s hard to picture Election Day or town meeting without Linda at the controls,” she said.
On the other hand, the two good friends will be able to sit back and enjoy not being in charge. They will likely be up to other mischief. And if the community is lucky, Greenlaw will still make her famous peanut butter balls for election night.
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