LEE — Robert Nason, a longtime, well-respected town official, died Tuesday night, after being stricken at his home.
Nason, who served for 19 years as Lee town administrator, was 76.
First responders were called to the Orchard Street residence early in the evening, and Nason was taken by a Lee ambulance to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is unknown.
He leaves his wife, Lisa Sloan, and daughter Sally.
He also leaves behind former Town Hall coworkers and elected officials, who were stunned by the sudden loss.
Town Treasurer/Collector Donna Toomey, who worked under Nason’s entire tenure, said she was “devastated and shocked.”
“He put his heart and soul into the town of Lee and he continued after his retirement volunteering in the community,” Toomey wrote in an email to The Eagle. “One thing I will always remember about Bob is that every morning when he came into work, he would stop by each office and say hello and ask how you were doing.”
“He looked at every single person he worked with as family,” added Select Board Chairman David Consolati. “Every morning he would buy fruit and put it the basket in the Selectmen’s office for staff to take.”
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 had in his career, in part because of the town’s way of life he shared with his family.
A close family friend, Judith Monachina, said Nason lived for his wife and daughter.
“He adored his family; he adored his daughter,” she said. “As a little girl, he used to take her golfing.”
Nason came to Lee in March 1998, expecting to stay five or six years, before returning to his native Eastern Massachusetts. After several years in Lee, he settled in for good.
“Then my daughter was born, and five years later I was walking her to school every day and realized I couldn’t leave,” he told The Eagle during his retirement party in 2017. “People here are committed to their community.”
He retired effective June 30, 2017, as the most senior town administrator/manager holding the same position in Berkshire County.
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 Corp., during the height of the downtown revitalization from the early 2000s until his retirement.
His last notable accomplishment was helping Lee champion a shared administration with neighboring Lenox. Under that arrangement, Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen became chief administrative officer of both communities in the wake of Nason’s departure.
Ketchen said he found Nason to be an inspiring mentor, and was key to his transitioning into Lee government.
“It is so shocking to me that we have lost a gentleman and statesman like Bob Nason, especially at a time when we need more of both,” Ketchen said in an email. “He was patient and gracious with his time — both personally and professionally. It was an honor to call him a colleague, but it was an even greater honor to call him my friend.”
Despite all the accomplishments during his tenure, Nason shunned the spotlight; all the more reason family, friends and former coworkers had to surprise him with a retirement bash July 13, 2017.
Nason seemed to feel a bit underdressed in his summer attire of sandals, casual shorts and polo shirt when he walked into the Greenock Country Club in Lee.
Expecting a quiet dinner with his wife and daughter, he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks to find dozens of friends and current and former coworkers 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, shaking off his disbelief at the gathering.