Anne Wojtkowski dies; engineer, educator and Pittsfield's first woman mayor

PITTSFIELD -- There were few glass ceilings in Berkshire County that Anne Everest Wojtkowski didn't smash through.

Wojtkowski, who died Monday at 79, was the first woman to serve as mayor of Pittsfield (from 1988-92), championed equal pay for female college faculty, spearhead early childhood education, all while being dedicated to her family.

"My brother [Tom] and I were the most important to her," said daughter, Dr. Marcella Bradway. "She gave up plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere."

Instead, Wojtkowski chose her native Pittsfield to make her mark in public education and politics.

An engineer by trade -- the first woman in her class at Boston University -- the Pittsfield High School alum returned to the city in the 1960s from the Boston area with her husband, Thomas, and two young children. She would embark on a 35-year career as a professor of mathematics and engineering at Berkshire Community College, retiring from BCC in 2004.

Her first taste of a mayoral campaign was in 1981, when she ran for mayor and lost in the preliminary election. Six years later she successfully won the first of two consecutive two-year mayoral terms, breaking the gender barrier in the corner office at City Hall.

"Clearly she was a trailblazer for women in politics," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "She not only cracked the glass ceiling, but she broke through it for other females to follow."

Former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo Jr., Wojtkowski's nephew, said his aunt wasn't about being first, but what's best for her hometown.

"Anne got into public service for the same reason she got into education -- she wanted to make a difference," Nuciforo said. "She entered city government during a difficult time: GE was pulling out, PCBs was becoming a hot topic and the economy was in a downtown."

At times, Wojtkowski butted heads with the City Council, only because she was adamant about getting things done, according to her daughter.

"It bothered her that she was misunderstood [as mayor,]" Bradway said. "She was contentious with the City Council, but if she had a point to make, she stuck with it."

Wojtkowski's re-election bid felt short in 1991, losing in the preliminary to her eventual successor, Edward Reilly.

The former city solicitor lauded Wojtkowski for being gracious in defeat and helping him transition into the mayor's job before he was sworn in January of 1992.

"When I got elected, she gave me all the ins and outs of the office," he said. "Even some of the people loyal to her stayed on during my first term."

Reilly also praised Wojtkowski for being among active supporters of the efforts that led to a $16 million restoration of the Colonial Theatre a decade ago. She also helped the city buy and convert the old Capitol Theatre and movie house into the present-day senior center on North Street, which opened after Reilly became the city's chief executive.

Wojtkowski's mayoral career was sandwiched between her being a pioneer for the Pittsfield Public Schools and a trendsetter for higher education.

In 1967 at the age of 32, Wojtkowski won her first election as the city's top vote-getter, winning a four-year term on the School Committee.

"There isn't a good reason in the world why the Pittsfield school system can't be one of the top systems, not only in the state but in the country," she said in one of her first public statements after the election that year.

Wojtkowski went on to call for "an orderly reorganization of the [school] department along the lines recommended by [a consulting firm]."

Between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, she also served as the chairwoman of the School Building Needs Commission that oversaw a $9 million modernization project at Pittsfield High, completed in 1977.

Seven years earlier in 1970, she helped the city school system establish one of the nation's first early childhood education programs, still in existence today.

"She was most proud of that," Bradway said. "The kids were the most important to her; she was a very nurturing person."

And persistent.

In 1983, she and another female professor initiated a lawsuit against BCC over an alleged lack of promotional and pay equity. The Massachusetts Teachers Association joined in the legal action and expanded it to include female educators and professionals at all state community colleges. Nine years later, the suit was settled for $10.6 million, considered the largest of its kind in Massachusetts and a springboard for the national movement for equal pay.

After taking a four-year hiatus from BCC to be mayor, Wojtkowski returned to the West Street campus, devoted to higher education and helping rebuild the local economy through the community college.

"I know we have engineers in Berkshire County and beyond who credit Anne with providing them with a top notch education," said BCC President Ellen Kennedy. "They have successful careers because of Anne's teaching."

Wojtkowski also co-founded Berkshire Enterprises, an entrepreneurial program that has trained hundreds of Berkshirites to start their own businesses and create more than 1,100 jobs.

"We are a better community for her leadership and innovation," Kennedy said.

In later years, Wojtkowski was an author, writing "Porcelain and Pottery Shoes," and other books. She was a collector of souvenir china, past president of the Berkshire Historical Society and considered one of the best ever to sail on Pontoosuc Lake, The Eagle reported, sharing a love of sailing with her father, A. Walter Everest.

"She also made a killer chocolate cake," Nuciforo said. "If people knew she was coming to an event bringing a cake, they would show up."