I once had a discussion with Martha O’Connor about fence viewing. I had applied and been appointed to the position, and ran into Martha at the grocery store (a frequent spot for us to run into one another). The topic was always related to Brattleboro or governing, and today it was Fence Viewing.
She told me about how she had also been a fence viewer many years ago. She and another gentleman would get the call to go view a fence, she said, and he would pick her up in a big, black, imposing-looking vehicle. They’d drive off to wherever the viewing was to take place, then hop out of their very official-looking vehicle to begin their work. The car, she pointed out, commanded respect. We shared some tips about viewing fences.
Very few people in town have any real political power, but Martha had it and used it to her advantage when she could. People listened to her, and she could rally support behind issues by working her networks in ways that made others look like amateurs. I often disagreed with her direction (Democrats for Douglas, a republican?), but always had respect for her skills.
Her second stint on the selectboard was in reaction to a year of progressive floundering, and she joined with two others to run as a bloc, to not only win a seat on the board but to have a three person majority going forward. It was a savvy political move, and enabled her to be assured of getting certain things accomplished.
She was quiet throughout that period, however. Her “rule” was not with an iron fist, but with backbench negotiating. Issues seemed to be worked out ahead of meetings, and votes were predictable and without a tremendous amount of board discussion. She didn’t babble on about things, and tried to remain in the background. She ran a tight ship from off to the side.
Her impact is all around us. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason we don’t have a police station downtown behind the Municipal Center is largely due to Martha. She didn’t want it in her backyard. I don’t think she ever said this directly, but the station was not built there.
I’ll miss seeing her at the grocery store, and will miss our short chats about town affairs.