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Beth Dow serves her town in many ways

BETH DOW HAS been a familiar face in Middlebury town government for most of the last five decades. She will serve as interim town treasurer for seven months. Independent file photo/John Flowers

MIDDLEBURY — Beth Caul Dow has more hats than can fit in the average closet.

She’s worn a half-dozen of them during a career with the town of Middlebury that began during the Nixon Administration. Dow has served stints in the town clerk, recreation, planning/zoning, assessing, town manager and listers’ offices.

But she’s going to pack up most of those hats later this fall as she phases out a lengthy term of service to a community she’s called home for her entire life — 70 years.

“I think I’ve put this decision off so long because this job is who I am,” Dow said of her career during a recent interview. “It’s huge.”

It all started in November of 1972, when Dow, three years after her graduation from Middlebury Union High School, was hired as assistant to her uncle, Middlebury Town Clerk Kenneth Caul.

In 1977, she switched over to what was then the recreation, planning, zoning and assessor’s office.

In 1983, then-Town Manager Rick McGuire assigned her exclusively to the assessing office, where she served until the fall of 1984. And that’s when Dow took a breather from her role as a municipal worker to enter the private sector.

She explained that she found it less satisfying to work in the municipal offices after Rick McGuire replaced Dave Crawford as town manager in 1983. Dow said the previous teamwork approach gave way to a new era in which employees were told to stay in their respective lanes.

“I wasn’t happy,” she recalled. “It was a whole different ballgame under (McGuire). When Dave Crawford was there as town manager, everyone worked together. We socialized together; it was a real group effort. If someone needed help (in another department), you’d go help them, and vice versa.”

Dow stuck it out until the fall of 1984, when she took an administrative assistant job at the local law firm of Langrock, Sperry & Wool. After nine months there, she became secretary to the MUHS principal, but soon took a job as secretary to the Department of Religion and Sociology/Anthropology at Middlebury College.

But Dow maintained a relationship with the town offices during her private-sector work. She ran successfully for Middlebury’s board of listers in 1985, serving the town in that capacity.

Meanwhile, her former colleagues lobbied her to return to the municipal fold. Former Director of Planning & Zoning Fred Dunnington and then Town Manager Betty Wheeler — who had succeeded McGuire — offered her a job as administrative assistant in the town’s planning and zoning office in 1988.

“I was torn,” Dow said.

Neither her college job at the time, nor the proposed town job, paid benefits; her hours weren’t quite enough to qualify.

Dow asked the town to sweeten its offer.

“I said I wouldn’t come back without benefits,” Dow said. “Finally, (Wheeler) said, ‘OK, you’ll have benefits.’”

Now she was back to stay. Dow worked in the planning/zoning office until 2009, whereupon she transitioned to secretary to the town manager — where she’s been ever since.

Her varied duties have included processing employee insurance, Workers Compensation and liability claims; fielding public assembly permit applications; assisting in maintenance of the town website; taking minutes for the selectboard and a few of its subcommittees; and composing meeting/event notices. Dow continues to serve Middlebury as E-911 coordinator and as a lister.

A LOT HAS CHANGED

As one can imagine, Dow has seen a lot of changes during her more than four decades with the town.

She’s served under five town managers, as well as several town clerks, recreation directors and planning/zoning heads.

When she first started, records were transcribed by hand and filed in cabinets. They’re now logged on computers.

But one thing has remained consistent during each of the thousands of workdays Dow has devoted to town business: interactions with people. It used to be that Dow knew most people who came into the town office to do business. But she said many of the faces have changed with the passage of time, to the extent that most of the transactions these days are fairly impersonal.

“It’s very hard to be a public employee right now,” she said.

She’s fortunate to have many longtime colleagues with whom he’s built solid friendships and working relationships. They include Police Chief Tom Hanley, Treasurer Jackie Sullivan, Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay, Health Officer Tom Scanlon, and wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Bob Wells.

Still, her dealings with colleagues have lessened during recent years, due mainly to sweeping changes in municipal facilities.

The former town office building at the intersection of College and South Main streets placed employees in close proximity to one another. Middlebury police were located in the basement of that building, with the Parks & Recreation Department sharing the main floor with the town clerk, treasurer, listers, planning office and town manager.

That began to change almost two decades ago when police moved into a new headquarters off Seymour Street, while Parks & Recreation transitioned to a new building off Creek Road six years ago, following construction of the new municipal building at 77 Main St.

“I don’t know half the new (police) officers,” Dow lamented. “It used to be we knew everybody, and now we don’t. I know them by their name and a file, but I don’t know their faces.”

While she appreciates the new town office building, Dow said it has “departmentalized” municipal staff to the extent they don’t cross paths as frequently as before.

“When the building came down, I felt bad — but it was more about the memories of what went on there,” Dow said. “I could’ve cared less about the building; it was that sense of togetherness.”

DEDICATION & VERSATILITY

Dow’s colleagues are sad they’ll be seeing less of Dow.

Ramsay, her current boss, marveled at the dedication and versatility Dow has shown through the years. And she’s embraced new technology, rather than shy away from it, according to Ramsay.

“Given that she’s done virtually every job in the municipal building except for town manager, she’s been like a secret weapon,” Ramsay said. “If there’s ever a gap somewhere, or someone needs a little piece of history, she’s there to help.”

Ramsay is grateful Dow has agreed to continue to help out, even if it will be in a more limited way.

Treasurer Jackie Sullivan said the town offices will lose a large piece of its institutional memory when Dow steps away.

“Beth’s knowledge on anything Middlebury will be missed,” Sullivan said. “We can always count on Beth for the answer to both current and historical questions. We are so fortunate that she will still be available to answer our inquiries. I wish her much happiness in this new phase of life.”

Dow was already a mainstay in the town’s zoning office when Scanlon arrived around 21 years ago. He called her a “real town treasure” who knows “virtually knows every job in the building.”

“She was the go-to person for information, both historic and anecdotal, to which she remains to this day,” Scanlon said. “Over the years, she has become a close friend who I always enjoy talking to and annoying. She knows I like to push her buttons due to the response it elicits. The town offices would never be the same without her.

“I am truly proud to call her my friend.”

Dow hasn’t lined up a bunch of things to do with the extra time she’ll suddenly have. But she’s looking forward to taking her granddaughter, Paislee Provoncha, to the Mary Hogan School each day for pre-K.

Other than that, she plans to do more volunteer work for two dog rescue organizations.

“My only hobby is shopping, and I need to work to fuel that hobby,” she said with a smile.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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