STOCKBRIDGE — In an outpouring of appreciation, affection and humor, at least 200 townspeople turned out to salute retiring Town Administrator Jorja-Ann P. Marsden at a festive farewell tribute on Wednesday evening.
While enjoying an elaborate buffet at the Town Offices' Senior Center, residents acclaimed Marsden's three decades in town government, including 20 years as town administrator. She was praised for her patience, upbeat demeanor and willingness to go many extra miles to resolve problems large and small brought to her office every day.
Coincidentally, the gathering came on her birthday as mentioned by several speakers, prompting the entire gathering to break into a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Marsden's final day in the office is Friday, July 15.
Retired Police Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox reminisced about their many years of close friendship, starting in 1955 in kindergarten class at the former Stockbridge Plain School, converted to Town Offices in 2008. "It's now the booking area for the police department," he said to appreciative laughter.
Marsden and Wilcox noted the presence of their seventh-grade history teacher, since both were in the final graduating class of 1968 at the Williams High School, which shared the building before students were transferred to the new Monument Mountain Regional High in Great Barrington.
Wilcox remembered her busy high school years, "happy to be a workhorse but not a show horse. Behind the scenes, she made sure everything worked."
Reading from their high school yearbook, he listed Jorja-Ann Pilling's accomplishments, including Model Congress, Glee Club, Dramatic Club, yearbook staff, Prom Committee, class treasurer and vice president, JV cheerleader and varsity cheerleader.
Recalling his 28 years as police chief, Wilcox called Marsden his "sounding board during my many adventures in small-town policing and politics."
"Jorja, today is about thanking you for sharing your gifts and your many acts of kindness, and on a personal level for over 60 years of friendship," Wilcox said. "I now encourage you to see a newer world," quoting from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's classic 1842 poem, "Ulysses."
Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo noted that he had known Marsden "since I was this tall," pointing toward the floor. "She's a really sweet person," he said. "I worked with her for four years roughly, and anytime I had a question, she gave me an answer — whether I wanted to hear it or not."
Cardillo, also the town's fire chief, declared that "she'll be really missed, her knowledge about this town is irreplaceable."
Deborah McMenamy, a former Select Board member for 15 years, told Marsden and the crowd: "Tonight, we get to tell you how wonderful you are and how much you're appreciated. I also want to thank you for allowing this event to happen in your honor, and for showing up for it."
"You've made a mark in this town that will not soon be forgotten," McMenamy said. Pointing to many accomplishments achieved by past Select Board members, she described Marsden as "the glue that held us together, kept us on track, and you made sure we got our work done. You have given your heart and soul to this job."
"We did a lot during your tenure, especially to bring Stockbridge into the 21st century, a code-compliant, technological, litigation-conscious, modernized era but still a town with heart," McMenamy said. "We made the town a safer place to live, we moved the Town Offices into a code-compliant building, and we improved water and sewer lines all over the place."
"It's a bittersweet moment," said Selectman Stephen Shatz as he presented Marsden with a plaque to be installed at the Town Offices entrance "to mark Jorja's service to this town in a very permanent way."
"Oh my God!" she exclaimed.
"It's the least that we can do to provide a lasting form of recognition for this extraordinary service to this very unusual town," he said.
Shatz described her notification to the Select Board last January of her plan to retire as "an occasion of both tears for us and great happiness for her and her family. She has touched everyone's life, there isn't anyone in this room who hasn't been affected by her kindness and generosity, and she has set a standard for the future that we can only hope will be repeated."
Surprise guest, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, quipped, "Better a plaque than a headstone."
"This is an institution, in this room is Stockbridge," he said, describing the Rockwellian "purity of open town meetings, the purest form of government anywhere in the world is the town meeting, Stockbridge epitomizes that, and she's the rock of it."
Joking to Marsden about "a bill that I filed rescinding your retirement, passed and signed by the governor today," Pignatelli described Wilcox's retirement in February 2014 "as the first cultural shift in Stockbridge in a generation. This is the next one."
He presented a citation from the state House of Representatives congratulating Marsden "in recognition of your 31 years of dedicated service to the town of Stockbridge."
It was signed by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, he said, "and very proudly by your state representative but more importantly your friend, Smitty Pignatelli. Congratulations!"
Fighting back tears, Marsden told the assembled crowd, "You've all been friends, family and everything to me, some of you I've known my entire life, and I just can't thank you all for everything you have done for me. It was an honor and a pleasure to be able to serve all of you, and continue to serve my wonderful town of Stockbridge."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
In their own words . . .
"You always want to please all of the people, all of the time. Whenever anyone has a problem or a question in town, you get the call and you have the answer. You know what to do, who to call and you make things happen. Even if you cannot provide immediate relief to specific concerns, you provide courtesy and recognition to people that gives them immediate comfort."
— Retired Select Board member Deborah McMenamy
"Over 31 years, Jorja has shown tremendous leadership and guidance for this wonderful community, for what the next generation will look like. I hope the townspeople will follow her lead on the vision she's embraced for the last several years."
— State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli
"In recognition of devoted service to the town of Stockbridge, 1985 to 2016, Jorja-Ann P. Marsden, Town Administrator."
— Plaque to be installed at the building's entrance