Bath bids farewell to ‘Mother Mary’

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BATH — Never one for the limelight or fanfare, Mary White quietly announced her retirement a month ago after more than 20 years as city clerk. On the final day of 2018, she packed up her things and left through the back door of City Hall.

But the impact the woman known as “Mother Mary” left on those who govern and live in Bath will likely resonate for years to come.

White on Jan. 2 said her first day of retirement just felt like another day off.

“That’s what I’m going to wonder,” she said with a laugh. “When is it going to kick in? You’re not going to go back to work; you don’t have to get up at 5 a.m.”

White started with the city as deputy clerk in July 1995. Beverly Henrikson, who continued as clerk for the next year and a half, invited White to apply for the position. White was working at the time in the administrative office of Kimball Chase, an engineering firm that did work for the city. With the firm downsizing, the time seemed right for White to try something new.

White already knew several members of the interview committee. She had been a Chapter 1 tutor for School Union 47 – now part of Regional School Unit 1 – in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She and husband Les were emergency medical technicians in West Bath, and they were trained by Leverett “Tink” Mitchell, a Bath city councilor at the time.

Since the Whites had two young children back then – Les was a coach and his wife was an assistant – the couple knew many people through Bath’s Recreation Department.

“I always ended up in the goal, and the kids were always kickin’ that ball at me,” she recalled.

White rose to the top of the slate of candidates, and Henrikson called her in to chat further. “She said, ‘I’m looking for somebody who wants to serve the public, and I think you have that. … We need somebody who wants to work with the public, who wants to help the public, and I need somebody who’s strong, not afraid to take on anything.'”

Henrikson, who saw her own retirement on the horizon, said White was the person she could trust to someday take up that mantle. White knew she had much to live up to.

Henrikson became a mentor to her. Kathy Montejo was clerk for the following year, and White rose into that position in February 1999, there to stay nearly 20 years.

“She was something,” White recalled of Henrikson, who died last year. “I don’t even profess to be up with her standard. But I did the best I could.”

White, who keeps her age a well-guarded secret, sees a changing of the guard at City Hall, staffed with younger people. It was a good time to move on, and let the next generation take the reins, as Henrikson did with her, she said.

“It’s time for them to find their own way,” White noted.

‘He’s my deputy clerk’

Mary and Les White grew up in Beals Island and Jonesport, respectively, across a Washington County bay.

“We got connected by a bridge,” she said.

They’ve been something of a dynamic duo at Bath’s monthly council meetings. He, supplying councilors with the refreshments they need during sometime-marathon gatherings. She, by keeping the panel in line, providing valuable institutional memory to members old and new alike.

“He’s my deputy clerk,” White said of her husband, who, with their children, have spent many long election nights at the polls.

“Whatever she tells me to do,” Les added.

“He could walk into that office today and run it just as well as I could,” White noted. “Him and my family, they’ve all been there.”

The couple married in 1972, and the following year bought a trailer that followed them around the country during Les’ time in the Navy. When he started working at Bath Iron Works three decades ago, they moved the trailer on to a vacant 3-acre lot on Long Cove in West Bath. The home that started them off is now part of a larger house they built on that property.

Les, who completed his career at the Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion & Repair, retired the morning of Dec. 31, 2018. White followed suit that afternoon.

They’d looked into retiring earlier, but White’s appointment last year as president of the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association kept her on the job longer. That post concluded in September 2018.

“It was quite a year, I’ll tell you,” said White, praising the office staff in Bath that supported her during that time.

‘They all call me Mother Mary’

Something of a counselor to the councilors, White prides herself on having been a go-to person for the City Council.

“They all call me Mother Mary,” she said, even 80-year-old Bernie Wyman, who’s serving his 24th year on the council. “… They’ve gone through a lot, my councilors have, and they have felt comfortable enough to come in and talk to me.”

City Manager Peter Owen and Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco echoed those sentiments Jan. 2.

“She’s been an incredible presence, with total dedication to (the city),” Owen said.

“She’s just … known as Mother Mary,” Eosco added. “She’s really taken care of the council for 23 years.”

Keeping true to the example Henrikson taught her those years ago, White said she has strived to look out for councilors and residents alike. A clerk isn’t just there to give out a hunting license or marriage certificate, she said.

“That’s probably my special thing, is the people,” she said. “It’s not just the council, it’s been residents going through tough times.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Bath City Clerk Mary White retired Dec. 31 after 23 years with the city. Husband Les White, her unofficial deputy during those years, retired from his job the same day.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.