By Phil Demers
@BE_PhilD on Twitter
POSTED: 07/17/2015 05:49:57 PM EDT
DALTON — People not uncommonly anticipate retirement like they’re headed toward a tropical island of peace and relaxation.
In contrast, Barbara L. Suriner — formerly Berkshire County’s longest-serving active town clerk, who first took the post in Dalton in 1987 — said she “agonized” over the decision to retire, and very nearly decided to run again, even at 72.
Suriner did step down in May. A bit of traveling — to places like St. Louis and Yellowstone National Park — was then in order.
On Thursday, the former elections, taxes and bylaw specialist returned to the Berkshires from visiting her daughter in New Hampshire to attend a party held in honor of her service organized by friends and former colleagues.
Reflecting in an Eagle interview on both her accomplishments and the nature of her work, Suriner sounded as if she was still missing the job — after 28 years, no less.
“I’ve made peace with the decision, but it was a very difficult one to make,” Suriner said.
By far the senior town clerk in the area, Suriner often received calls from others seeking counsel and advice.
“I always welcomed their calls,” Suriner said. “I became friends with most of them.”
Suriner oversaw and led key transitions in town governance during her tenure, such as eliminating the costly town caucus election system, and the computerization of Town Hall records and communications, the town voting system, meeting agendas and minutes.
Colleagues, like Jean M. Gingras, an assistant for 19 years, called Suriner a “progressive” who “brought Dalton into the 21st century.”
“Barbara was instrumental in implementing many new programs in the town, a real asset,” Gingras said. “She also pulled together all our bylaws, which were scattered all through Town Hall and not together in a single book.”
Gingras continued, “She was extremely kind to people and a peacemaker on divisive issues. She seemed to always be able to calm the storms.”
In speaking to The Eagle, Suriner offered yet another sage piece of advice to those who would serve as town clerk and work with a large population of constituents.
“If you’re calm and good to them and speak respectfully, nine out of 10 times that’s what you’ll get in return,” Suriner said.
Melissa Davis, presently an assistant in the town clerk’s office, said Suriner had “integrity” and was “really good at what she did.”
“Barbara was incredible to work for and with. She knew everything,” Davis said.
“I wanted the policy to be: Do everything you can for anyone who comes through the door,” Suriner said.
At Thursday’s gathering, friends and colleagues presented Suriner with awards of recognition from state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. She will be given an award for service from the Massachusetts Municipal Clerks’ Association at a later date.
Without hesitating, Suriner said her favorite aspect of the job was “the people.”
“The citizens of Dalton are good people,” she said. “The thing I’d like them to know is it was my pleasure to work for them. I consider it a privilege.”