Friends, Townies, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to bury Pat McNally, but to praise him.
Patrick James McNally is retiring from the Board of Selectmen. It’s a historic event. Pat has been an Ipswich selectman for 24 years, and a Planning Board guy for 8 years before that. That’s almost a third of a century of service. He’s served our town 8% of the entire time we’ve been a town. Who could blame him for finally taking a breather?
And he has paid a steep price. He arrived in Ipswich as a cute, young, healthy family man with curly hair. In these long years of leadership labor, his youth has slipped away. Now, on chilly days, he has to wear a hat to keep his head warm. He is a bachelor again, and none too happy about it. He was even taken down by a nasty illness which put him in a prosthetic leg. (Probably not the result of foul play by a political opponent, but who knows?)
Worst of all, in my estimation, is this: In these 32 years, he has spent more than 20,804 hours in meetings, conferences, and phone calls on matters of importance to the Town of Ipswich. Taking time out for sleep, this is the equivalent of more than three and a half solid years of meetings. This is cruel and unusual punishment. Especially because of some of the people he had to sit in these meetings with.
I confess to my personal friendship with Pat. It wasn’t long after I arrived in Ipswich that an election campaign got under way, and he was the only candidate for selectman I hadn’t met personally. I was still euphoric about living in a small town, so I fearlessly contacted him and asked him to meet me for coffee. This is something you would never do in Phoenix, where I lived before, because there are two million people there, and how could a politician drink that much latte? It’s also something you would never do in Chicago, where I grew up, because any meeting with a politician has the potential for a St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
Pat graciously agreed to meet me. We sat in the front window at Zumi’s. He was pleasant and unpretentious. He took off his leg. We talked about Ipswich, about where it had been, and where it was going. Pat was so comfortable, and so in love with this town — this was so clearly who he really was — that I guess I fell in love with him.
It was Pat’s eighth campaign for the Board of Selectmen. The race was closer than most. He took Precinct 3 by a single vote. That, I am happy to report, was my vote.
Since that day, Pat has quietly helped me, and helped two of my children, in moments of need. And we’re not in some special category. He has helped many. This is the kind of guy he is.
I appreciate how Pat looks at the merits of a case, and proceeds accordingly. I remember witnessing a contentious Town Meeting debate about recalling elected officials. Pat was clearly annoyed; he argued for the motion to be rejected, in favor of further scrutiny by the Government Study Committee. Town Meeting affirmed his view. But he ended up listening to the arguments, then helping to craft the bylaw — and stood up at the next Town Meeting to personally pitch the recall statute.
He told me nearly a year ago that he would likely not run again. I pleaded with him to reconsider. But his mind was made up. He wants more time with his grandchildren, whose toys litter his deck. (That’s grandson Emmitt in the photo.) He wants more time on his motorcycle, which I completely disapprove of. He has already spent almost half of his entire life in official service to the Town of Ipswich, and now he’s ready to enjoy the town the way the rest of us already do, in large measure thanks to him. The performing arts center, library, and Town Hall, the open space, the environment-friendliness, the recycling, the wind turbines, the clean beaches and flourishing clam flats and the list goes on — this is stuff Pat McNally voted for, and worked for.
Henceforth, if you see a bald guy on a motorcycle zipping through town and laughing maniacally, don’t call 911. Don’t hide your children and draw your blinds. It’s only Pat. He’s harmless. He deserves to be free.