A CANTERBURY STORY by Sheila Mason Gale
A Canterbury Story by Sheila Mason Gale
On March 1, 1980 I walked into the Canterbury Town Offices located under the Dr. Helen Baldwin Middle School, to begin my first day of work as the First Selectman’s secretary. There were no copiers, answering machines, fax machines and, of course, no computers. Every letter had to be typed with carbon paper to make a copy. Payroll and disbursement check ledger entries had to be entered by hand and totaled by using a calculator. On December 31, 2015 I will leave this position, but I would like to tell you a brief anecdote about all of “my” First Selectmen over thirty five years.
David Ginnetti (Term: 11-22-77 to 11-21-89) was my first First Selectman and he knew everything that was happening in Canterbury. He was very intelligent and I was amazed at his steel-trap mind. If he was asked about a certain dump truck in the Town’s fleet he could tell you what time of the year it was bought, exactly how much it cost, what kind of financing was used to purchase it, who was involved in the purchase and if you gave him a minute he could probably come up with the truck’s serial number. He was very comfortable with public speaking and could handle any situation and never became frazzled. He was also a man of vision. In 1983 he proposed computers for the town offices, but the idea was voted down and the Town would not get computers until 1989.
Bob Manship (11-22-83 to 11-21-89), a former state policeman, was tall, strong, laid back and calm. Being a police office for so many years gave him lots of training for the First Selectman’s job when it came to dealing with people. Bob was a Democrat and there had not been a Democratic First Selectman in Canterbury since the 1960s’ so Senator, Joe Lieberman, came to Canterbury and stood in our small town office to swear Bob in as First Selectman. Bob loved children. At noon the school children would all come out of the Dr. Helen Baldwin School cafeteria in a line and walk past our office window back to their classroom. He would look out the window and say, “They are all beautiful aren’t they?” River Park was renamed Manship Park after Bob Manship.
Ray Guillet (11-21-89 to 11-19-91) and (11-16-93 to 11-21-95) was a Second Selectman for six years, but I really didn’t know him because I would only see him twice a month at Selectmen’s meetings. I had no idea how popular Ray was until he was elected First Selectman. He also owned a heating business in town so many citizens knew him from the business, but it seemed as though every person who walked into the town office knew Ray. He was a great listener and could relate to people and talk to anyone and treat them as if he knew them for years. It is during his tenure that I became the First Selectman’s Assistant.
Diane Tripp (11-19-91 to 11-15-92) was a hard worker. This was her first entry into politics and she studied and gathered every piece of information she could find out about Canterbury so she could do a good job. If a problem came up in the office that she was not familiar with, she would study and ask questions and find an answer. She also loved children. One day we went to BJ’s to get supplies for the Town. An unhappy little girl was standing all alone while her mother was checking out and Diane got down to the little girl’s level and started talking to her to cheer her up as if she was her grandchild. She was always trying to help people and I’m sure that was one of the reasons she ran for the First Selectmen’s job.
Charles Savarese, Sr. (11-17-92 to 11-16-93) was a true gentleman. He really cared about Canterbury and would go out of his way to help any citizen who walked into the office. I believe he was at every Town meeting Canterbury held and would give an educated opinion on any subject being discussed. He was Canterbury’s well respected Assessor from 1973-1993 before becoming First Selectman. While returning from any excursion out of town, Charlie would cross over the Canterbury town line and always say out loud: “Dear old Canterbury, home again.”
Neil A. Dupont, Sr. (11-21-95 to 11-18-03) and (11-22-05 to 11-20-07) had his own grain and feed business in Town and before that he was a shop steward at a transportation company. He was a typical New England Yankee, down to earth and honest and direct. He had a great mind for numbers and could rattle off phone numbers and budget numbers from memory and he would always get it right. He had a great sense of humor and would keep a perfectly straight face while spinning some outrageous story or yarn. He couldn’t hold the stern look for very long though and would break out into a smile and let you in on the joke. Due to his ability to bring everyone together for a common goal, in 2001 the Canterbury Municipal Building was finally built with a Town Hall, Library and Community Room.
Paul R. Santoro (11-18-03 to 11-22-05) was very detail oriented and kept all of his paperwork and files in a specific order. I like things in order also so we both got along fine. He wrote letters beautifully and was excellent at managing finances. He put into place several accounting procedures that we still use today. One day a package came from his daughter in England and he opened it at his desk. It was a box of beautiful chocolates from France. He held out the box and said, “Have one”. I’m not a big chocolate fan, but they looked so beautiful I took one. Just when I was taking my second bite he said “my daughter sent them to my wife and me for our anniversary.” What? I was eating someone else’s very expensive anniversary chocolates from France? When I pointed that out, he said, “Well, you know Donna doesn’t eat chocolates”. He was right, but he still should have told me before I ate one.
Brian H. Sear (11-20-07 to 11-19-13) was a well-rounded person and had several jobs in his lifetime. He was a teacher, salesman, printer, and more which helped prepare him for the various things that came before a First Selectman. Several years before he took office his daughter, Alex, gave him a book which helps you decide what you really want to do. After reading the book he said “I want to be in politics.” One day I was reading an article in the paper about someone who had received four million dollars. I asked him, “what would you do with four million dollars?’ He said he would give three million away and find a way to live on one million dollars. It was during his time in office that he negotiated with a large company for Canterbury to have annual monies for the Library, Town Hall and a paid daytime ambulance service. He had several catch phrases, one of my favorites was: “I want to grow old and become more open-minded”.
Roy A. Piper (11-19-13 - present) was in the Navy for 23 ½ years and then worked for the State of Connecticut so he was well prepared to serve as First Selectman. I knew Roy for many years and knew he would make a good First Selectman and when he would come in to pay his taxes I would stop him in the hall and ask him when are you going to run? So it was not a surprise I ended my career with him as my last First Selectman. He and his wife taught catechism for 26 years and some of those children, now adults, stop in the Selectmen’s office to say hello. It was just a few weeks into his first term when I ordered 20 cases of copy paper. I wasn’t going to be in the office when it would be delivered so I asked him to accept the delivery and make sure to count the boxes so we wouldn’t be short. He said, “Sheila, I had to account for the delivery of nuclear weapons, I think I can handle the copy paper.”
I frequent the Canterbury Library and I don’t know how Library Director, Marion, has managed to find and hire only nice, helpful and friendly workers, but I appreciate all of them. I recently read a biography of Prime Minister, Margaret Thather. She was asked if she was a better politician because of her husband. She said, “Of course. If you’ve got security and certainty behind you, if you come home to total loyalty and affection, then your basic worries in life are gone”. I am so fortunate to have had my husband, Peter, with me through this wonderful job and as I start a new phase of my life.