Lee throws surprise party for retiring longtime Town Administrator Bob Nason

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LEE — Since Robert Nason usually shuns the spotlight, the former Lee town administrator was stunned late Thursday afternoon when he walked in on his surprise retirement party.

Expecting a quiet dinner with wife Lisa Sloane and college-bound daughter, Sally, the 71-year-old entered the Greenock Country Club, suddenly stopped dead in his tracks to find dozens of friends, current and former co-workers ready to thank him for nearly 20 years of public service to the community.

"I thought I was coming here just to get a good salad," he said as he shook off his disbelief at the gathering.

Nason seemed to feel a bit underdressed in his summer attire of sandals, casual shorts and polo shirt. Town Treasurer Doona Toomey noted he would have felt more comfortable had he come straight from a hard day's work at Lee Memorial Town Hall.

"I think we surprised him because we got him to come without wearing a tie," Toomey told an Eagle reporter.

Nason eventually relaxed, began to mingle with the well-wishers, accepting hugs, handshakes followed by accolades, some good-natured ribbing and several parting gifts.

Those who spoke praised the retiree's leadership as the town government's day-to-day boss, being a mentor to new town employees and elected officials and working behind the scene to help the town grow. However, most of the comments took a good-hearted aim at his fiscal conservatism when it came to spending taxpayers' money.

"For 19 years, Bob watched the town's pocketbook closely. I'm not saying he was cheap, after all he did bring fresh fruit to the office every day," said Selectwoman Patricia Carlino.

Nason practiced what he preached when it came to the town budget bottom line.

"I've never known a town official who would not take a pay raise for years," said former Selectman Frank Consolati during the parade of speeches.

Nason spent four decades in public service. He worked for two state agencies and local housing authorities in Melrose and Chelsea before coming to Lee. Town administrator was the longest public service job that Nason has had in his career, in part because of the town's way of life he shares with his wife and daughter.

Nason came to Lee in March of 1998, expecting to stay 5 or 6 years, before returning to his native Eastern Massachusetts. He retired two weeks ago as the most senior town administrator/manager holding the same position in Berkshire County.

"Then my daughter was born and five years later I was walking her to school every day and realized I couldn't leave. People here are committed to their community," he said to The Eagle once the festivities died down.

Nason rarely took credit for his role in the town's financial, economic and quality-of-life growth over the past two decades.

On his watch, a new elementary school rose atop the hill behind a renovated and expanded Lee Middle and High School on Greylock Street. Nason worked on or fostered numerous grants, seeking money for equipment and projects the yearly budget couldn't sustain. He also worked closely with Richard Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corporation, during the height of the downtown revitalization the past 15 years.

"Bob always had vision; without vision you're just a work-a-day town administrator without making any progress," Vinette said. "It was an inspiration to me."

Nason did his best to keep the volunteer town boards well-informed before taking any vote, according to Select Board Chairman David Consolati.

"He made you look at both sides of the issue before you made a decision and let you know you might have to bend a little after the decision is made," he told the crowd.

Since officially retiring on June 30, Nason has returned to Town Hall to slowly clear away boxes of paperwork so his successor Christopher Ketchen can begin a new era as the shared administrator for both Lee and Lenox. In a three-year pilot program, Ketchen will be the chief administrative officer for the neighboring towns, with Lyndsey Broom as the assistance CAO to primarily handle human resource duties for each municipality.

Nason, no doubt, will keep tabs on how the experiment works while playing more golf and possibly owning his own food truck. Toomey pointed out that Nason has quipped about being a roving food vendor so he can follow his daughter to UCLA in the fall.

"We know how much he loves to make you breakfast," Toomey said in Sally's direction.

To get him started, Nason was presented with a battery-operated toy food truck and apron to jump start his "new career."

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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