Panton's town clerk leaving after 17 years amidst praise
PANTON — Over the past 17 years many Panton residents have sat on the town’s selectboard, while town debates have focused on how to fund needed work on Panton Town Hall, how to word new town plans and zoning laws, and how to get a handle on rising tax rates.
But there has been one constant during those years: Sue Torrey has served as Panton Town Clerk and greeted residents and other visitors in the office nestled in the town hall basement.
As of this Thursday, that constant is no longer: Torrey and her husband, Dennis, have sold their Panton Road home in a deal that is set to close later this month, and they already own a home in Clearwater, Fla., to which they will move.
Thursday will be Torrey’s last day of work, to selectmen’s regret.
“Having someone like Sue as town clerk has made my job on the selectboard easy,” said Selectman Eric Carter. “She’s been a great resource over the years. I can’t tell you how many times she’s responded to my many questions with ‘Well, I just called VLCT (Vermont League of Cities and Towns) or the secretary of state, and this is what they said.’”
Current selectboard chairman John Viskup put it simply.
“We thank Sue for her years of devoted service to the town,” Viskup said. “She really held it together for us.”
Viskup said the board has asked assistant clerk Jean Miller to take over until Town Meeting Day, when residents will pick a new clerk by vote. Miller and Torrey have shared hours in recent months, allowing Miller to familiarize herself with the job and giving Torrey time to prepare for the move.
Viskup said the plan has worked well.
“(Torrey) has been there for us and let us have plenty of lead time,” he said. “She made the transition easy.”
Looking back, Carter said Torrey has demonstrated the ideal temperament for the position. Not everyone who comes to a clerk’s office is on a happy mission, he noted.
“She’s been a tremendous asset for the town. She has the perfect combination of professionalism and toughness coupled with a very caring personality,” Carter said. “Sue often has to deal with people coming into the office that are upset and frustrated over something, and she has a way of defusing the situation in a way that focuses on solving the problem. That’s not a common skill.”
Torrey, a 63-year-old native of Sheldon who previously worked at Country Home Products and Goodrich Corp., said she — like other small-town clerks — always viewed her role as doing whatever she could to help her neighbors and fellow townspeople.
“I certainly do think I’m doing something positive for the town. I’m performing a service, like with marriage licenses. You can register your car here,” she said. “I’m trying to provide a service for the residents of Panton. They can come to my home if they need something. We often fax things for people ... We’re a service facility.”
Torrey is also proud that she has been able to apply successfully for grants to help the town. On Tuesday morning, she learned the state had just awarded $5,000 to Panton to upgrade town hall’s parking lot and the entry to the clerk’s office — an award based on her application.
“That’s exciting, when you have done something like that,” she said.
Torrey also described the job as unique, because by doing tasks like filling out marriage and birth certificates she became, in at least some small way, a part of people’s lives.
“It’s very gratifying. When I do a marriage license, I feel like, oh my God, my name is on here forever,” she said. “And my next door neighbor had a home birth, and she came over the other day crying and said, ‘I can’t believe your leaving.’ I guess you feel so connected.”
Torrey said getting new selectboards trained on the ins and outs of town government and state laws often proved to be her greatest challenge, and she does not remember a mold infestation in the basement office too fondly.
But almost all of the memories she will take to Florida will be fond.
“The people who come in are so wonderful. It’s just such a great community. Everybody helps everybody, and it’s so community-oriented,” she said. “You feel like family, almost.”
The Torreys’ new doublewide home sits right on Tampa Bay, and she described it as “absolutely beautiful. Just like paradise.”
Dennis Torrey, another former Goodrich employee, will be leaving his post as an Aubuchon Hardware store manager and will seek part-time work in Florida. Sue Torrey said she might do some part-time work, and she and Dennis will volunteer.
“We’re going to sit back and enjoy life a little bit and give back,” Torrey said. “That’s important to us, to give back a little bit.”
Their daughter’s family, including their three grandchildren, who live in St. Albans, will be visiting.
“We already bought them tickets to come down and see us as a Christmas present,” Torrey said.
Carter joked she might hear from the selectboard, too.
“I’m certainly going to miss Sue,” he said. “Maybe she can take calls from sunny Florida.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.