By Sheila Mason Gale
Marguerite Simpson was a modern woman and well ahead of her time. She was a wife and mother, held political office involving multiple positions, is a fabulous cook and seamstress, musician and advocate. She has done it all while living in Canterbury.
There are still a few Canterbury citizens who were born in Canterbury and remain here. Marguerite Tracy was born on Depot Road 81 years ago. The house she was born in is still standing at the sharp corner of Depot Road just North of Shagbark Lane.
Anyone who went to school in Canterbury in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s remember her mother, Happie K. Tracy. Happie was the Postmaster at the time of Marguerite’s birth. During that time period, Canterbury had a train depot/Post office. The mail and passenger train would travel from Providence to Hartford and stop in Canterbury twice a day. Marguerite’s father, Arthur, would take the train to work at the Plainfield Laughton Mill until he got a car. The train depot was eventually brought by P.B. Smith and moved to South Canterbury Road where he turned it into his residence.
When the mail drop was changed to the center of Canterbury, Happie gave up the Postmaster job, went into teaching and the family moved to Lisbon Road where Marguerite attended Frost School. Eventually the family settled on Tracy Road.
Marguerite’s family was very musical. Her Aunt Ida would play piano for Marguerite’s father Arthur and her Uncle Burt (Herbert) when they sang at the socials held at the Canterbury Grange Hall. Many dances were held at the Grange and that made Marguerite very happy since dancing was her favorite hobby. The Finnish Hall was also very active and she would go to their dances also. Mr. Usetello would drive anybody interested to the hall and he was also the entertainment. He played his accordian.
In the thirties, many students could not go on to high school because they had to get a job, but because education was highly valued in the Tracy family, Marguerite was encouraged to attend Plainfield High School. This is where she learned to sew and became an excellent seamstress. She graduated in 1937 and then continued her education by attending Morse School of Business.
She took piano lessons in Canterbury from Elsie Hawes and also in Willimantic along with her friend, Margaret Robinson. She played the piano for Calvary Chapel and was a Sunday school teacher for many years.
When she met her husband, Charlie Simpson, he lived in the Packerville section of Canterbury. Charlie’s sister Georgeanna (Wellinghausen) decided Charlie needed somebody and thought he and Marguerite would make a good match. She was right, they were married for 32 years before his death had five children.
Marguerite followed her father, who was an Assessor, into politics. She and her brother Darwin both took an interest in his work. During this time period, First Selectmen, Norman Kerr asked Marguerite to help him with some paperwork for the Selectmen’s Office. She eventually joined the Republican Town Committee and became Town Treasurer. Before the addition to the Dr. Helen Baldwin School in 1962, all of the Town records were kept in elected officials homes and if you needed to get some town business done you went directly to the home of the Town Clerk, Tax Collector or Assessor. Jeanette White was the first Town Clerk to move the town offices in the basement of the Dr. Helen Baldwin School. Lydia Greenstein was the next Town Clerk, but when she decided she didn’t want to run again, Priscilla Botti said to Marguerite, who was still the town Treasurer at the time, “You need to run”. She did and won the election in 1966 and remained the Canterbury Town Clerk and treasurer until 1973 when she resigned as Treasurer, but was appointed as the Town Clerk/Tax Collector. She held these two positions until 1985.
She remembers when Bob Manship became First Selectmen. It was Bob’s first time in politics and not realizing that the Town Clerk is independent he thought it was his job to tell Marguerite how to do her job. If you know Marguerite, she spoke her mind and Bob realized he was not in charge of the Town Clerk’s office and after that discussion, he and Marguerite had a great relationship.
Her value for education carried over into her job as Town clerk. She attended classes to become certified. She was very well read and kept impeccable records. She made sure Canterbury was in compliance with all the state statutes. Even though Canterbury was a small Town when Marguerite started her political career, as the Town grew she made sure Canterbury kept up with modern times.