Long-time Town Clerk Patrick O’Sullivan has announced recently that he will not run for a 13th term come November. O’Sullivan said he and his family had talked about retirement for a while, but when the Democratic Town Committee started working on a ballot, he told them that his name would not be on it. That was right around the time of his 71st birthday in April. “It is time to pass the torch to another town clerk,” he said when asked about retirement.
During nearly 25 years in office, O’Sullivan has seen a generation of Orange residents grow up as they entered his office on the first floor of the Town Hall, seeking counsel, sometimes forms or information. And he has plenty to give in any of those categories.
“We have dozens of number one priorities,” he said, when asked about the work of the Town Clerk. The office keeps track of the land records and the vital statistics; it files agendas and minutes; election and campaign finance records are kept here.
People come in for title searches or to record a property sale; they come in for marriage licenses or to record a baby’s birth; or a death. “We get people who don’t have oil or heat,” he said, and he and his staff try to help connect them to the right agencies. During the month of June people come in to renew their dog licenses – and to let them know when fido has passed away. Last year he tried as best he could to console a person who was shaken up by the death of her dog.
“Being Town Clerk has been a wonderful experience,” he reminisced in an email. “l think it takes a certain temperament, empathy, compassion and understanding; l always thought l was like ambassador for the town and a bridge between all levels of government.”
In addition to the personal connections he made, at the end of 24 years he has:
- recorded approximately 60,000 deeds totaling over 275,000 pages;
- Codified the Charter, ordinances, Inland Wetlands and zoning regulations;
- recorded thousands and thousands of births, marriage, deaths, and military discharges;
- As an election official, he witnessed the election of countless dedicated local, state and national individuals; as well as town, school budget & other referendums;
- applied for and obtained more than 20 historic preservation grants totaling over S120,000, money that allowed his office to scan and digitize almost 50 years’ worth of records, many of which are nowadays available on the Town Clerk webpage.
O’Sullivan said when he once was asked about his proudest moment in office, what came to his mind was 9/12 – the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. “We had an election in November of that year,” he said, and the registrars’ lottery was taking place. In spite of all the tragedy happening around them, everybody made sure that the town’s business got done. “Democracy kept going,” he said, in spite of the earth-shattering events taking place at our doorstep.
First Selectman Jim Zeoli announced the town clerk’s impending retirement at the Orange Town Meeting on May 12, thanking O’Sullivan for his dedicated service. Zeoli pointed out that Patrick O’Sullivan was always ready to serve where needed, seven days a week. “He has represented the town proudly,” Zeoli said, “as did his father and grandfather. His great-grandfather was the first mayor of Derby when they switched to the mayoral system of government,” Zeoli said. “It’s in his genes.
“On behalf of the Board of Selectmen, we thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Town of Orange,” Zeoli said warmly at the town meeting, to enthusiastic applause.
O’Sullivan began his public service in his mid-20s, when he was first elected to the Board of Selectmen in 1973. Ralph Capecelatro was First Selectman, and the town purchased the land where today the Country Fair, Firemen’s Carnival, Memorial Day, July 4th fireworks and concerts are being held.
That was before the Freedom of Information Act had gone into effect, and sometimes the board met without an agenda. “Freedom of Information was just beginning,” he said.
The purchase of the Fairgrounds wasn’t the only action taken that impacts the quality of life of today’s townspeople. Selectmen also enacted and created the Inland Wetlands & Water Courses Commission, the Human Services Commission — now called Community Services — and provided transportation for senior citizens.
“I was honored to serve on the Bicentennial Commission and as a charter member of the Orange Agricultural Fair Committee,” he said, with the fair still being a popular destination every September.
O’Sullivan was elected to the General Assembly for one term, in 1978, and said he made long-lasting friendships with legislators from both parties and every corner of the state. In 1995 he was elected to the local Board of Finance, and two years later to the office of town clerk.
He likened his life to that of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who never gets to leave his hometown because he is constantly needed. O’Sullivan’s family teases him for having grown up on Orange Center Road, living on Orange Center Road, working on Orange Center Road, within view of Orange Center Cemetery.
But God willing, that’s a ways off and there are many things to do and see. When asked whether he would actually retire from active life, he wouldn’t commit.
So, for now, “it is with great pride, excitement and a little bit of sorrow that after nearly 50 years of public service, l have decided not to run for Orange Town Clerk next year.” And that’s as far as he’ll go.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent