Longtime town clerk says goodbye

After nearly a quarter-century on the job, town official recalls the early days

  • Maria Chamberlain resigns as the town clerk of Jaffrey after almost 25 years of service.
  • Maria Chamberlain resigns as the town clerk of Jaffrey after almost 25 years of service.

JAFFREY — When Maria Chamberlain became the Jaffrey town clerk in November 1987, she was working with typewriters and hand-written logs. But after almost 25 years of service, Chamberlain said she feels bittersweet about leaving the hometown feel of Jaffrey. She is resigning her post, effective Oct. 4.

In an interview Monday, Chamberlain said it didn’t take her long to realize how important having a family connection to Jaffrey is. “Everyone’s always asking you, ‘Are you a native? Who are you related to?” Chamberlain said. “I’ve always liked history and it was helpful with this job.”

Chamberlain’s grandparents are originally from Jaffrey and her grandfather, Harry Whitney, worked as a butcher for 20 years at a store that used to be located where Athen’s Pizza is now on Peterborough Street.

Although Chamberlain has ties to Jaffrey, she grew up all over the country since her father, Russel Whitney, was an aviation pilot in the Army. Chamberlain said she’s lived in Georgia, Kentucky and several other places, but was drawn to Jaffrey because of the family she has there.

Before being employed as town clerk, Chamberlain said her experience was in working in a inventory control office at a retail store prior to moving to Jaffrey and working at Millipore for a year. Having gained knowledge of inventorying, numbers and filing, Chamberlain was hired by the Jaffrey Select Board in 1987 to serve as town clerk, and she learned a lot as she went along.

When she started as town clerk, Chamberlain said the volume of customers was much higher. “Back then, Jaffrey was the only town around issuing plates and stickers [for cars], so we were getting people from Rindge and Peterborough as well as Jaffrey,” Chamberlain recalled. “I didn’t know much about cars back then, except how to change the oil.”

She said that what a computer does now, she did manually back then. Figuring out taxes all had to be done on paper.

Election season has consumed a lot of Chamberlain’s time over the years. “Elections now have ballot machines, which saves having another person in the office,” Chamberlain noted.

One of her projects, her baby as she called it, was to protect all the old, hand-written and typed records from the town going back to the 1930s. The town office has records that go even further back, but all the records prior to the 1930s are all hand-written on pages in old books. Since the pages cannot be removed from the books, Chamberlain said she is unsure how these records will preserved. Her project was to take the loose paper records from the 1930s and earlier and put them in binders with protective sleeves, which are not inexpensive, Chamberlain noted.

Jaffrey’s Tax Collector and Deputy Town Clerk Dawn Oswalt said she will miss Chamberlain dearly. The two have worked together for about 25 years. Chamberlain has served as deputy tax collector, in addition to town clerk.

The rewards of this job for Chamberlain came from helping townspeople with delicate and joyful matters, such as birth certificates or marriage licenses. “Working with different life events was fun,” Chamberlain said.

For a small town, Chamberlain said Jaffrey is always changing. “You always have people coming in and leaving, although it has become a bedroom community.”

She said she doesn’t see the same participation from Jaffrey residents at town meetings like she used to. “People are busy with their families and comfortable with how New England governs itself,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain, with husband Michael, will be moving to the Savannah area of Georgia to be closer to Chamberlain’s mother and father. “I might do something with the DMV down there,” Chamberlain said. “If I didn’t keep working, I’d get bored.”

Until Chamberlain’s last day on Oct. 4, she will be busy training part-time Deputy Town Clerk Kelly Rowlands , who will assume Chamberlain’s full-time responsibilities when she officially steps down, until such time as the voters elect a new town clerk. Four friends of Chamberlain’s from the community have organized an open house at the Jaffrey Civic Center on Sept. 20, from 3 to 5 p.m., for anyone who wishes to stop in and say goodbye.

Chamberlain said she’s not leaving town forever, though. “I will definitely miss this town and everything about it, boards and all,” she said. “Jaffrey has got to be one of the best places around.”

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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