After 24 years as Town Clerk, Judith Gallant is calling it quits.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town Clerk Judith Gallant had no idea what she got herself into when she won election in 1988.
But she learned on the job and now after 24 years in the position, she has become the go-to person. But only for a few more weeks.
Gallant is retiring on April 11.
"I never thought I'd win. When I did, I though 'what have I done?'" Gallant said on Tuesday, a week after the Selectmen "regrettably" accepted her resignation. "The job intimidated me. But I walked in, rolled up my sleeves and learned it the hard way."
The Amherst native moved to the Berkshires shortly after high school and attended McCann Technical School's medical assistant postgraduate program.
She then worked at Sweet Brook Nursing Home in Williamstown before moving to upstate New York. Eventually, she found herself back in the Berkshires in 1986 and appointed as director of the Council on Aging.
She was asked by a number of residents to run for town clerk. She didn't think she'd win but figured she'd give it a shot. Then the Police, Fire and Highway departments came out to support her and she cruised to victory.
She would only face one contested election from then on.
"They kept voting for me so I might have done something right," Gallant said, after talking about her immediate struggles learning the responsibilities.
The position calls for running elections, working with each town department, the secretary of state and attorney general, assisting residents with questions, and handling permitting. What Gallant liked the best was when she would be asked to delve into old records — birth, marriage and death records all come to her office.
Whether it was a resident researching a family tree or authors writing a history, Gallant was more than willing to help out.
"If you can help out one person a day, I've felt I've accomplished something," Gallant said.
Helping the residents is just one role, helping other towns is another. It took Gallant about five years to get the majority of the work down pat and her experience has made her a frequent consultant for new town clerks.
Recently, the Hancock clerk fell sick and Gallant spent three days giving a "crash course" to town officials there about permitting, paperwork and laws governing the position.
She's gotten to know the majority of the town's residents over the years so handling burial permits is difficult.
"It's sad because I know some many people in town. One year, we had 30 people in town die," Gallant said.
She also won't miss the long election days. In each of the six presidential elections she oversaw, the days start at 6 a.m. and don't stop until 10 p.m.
Gallant is a justice of the peace so she has officiated marriages for years and has some stories from that role, too. She recalled a wedding she did in Town Hall with other town staff being the witnesses.
Another time, she conducted a wedding on the grassy area behind Town Hall with all the guests gathered in a semi-circle around the couple. However, an elderly couple were late and missed the ceremony.
Because they had difficulty getting out of their car, the doors were opened so the couple could hear a second saying of the vows.
"I've done weddings everywhere," Gallant said, listing restaurants and scenic locations as well as at her own house when she was home sick.
Gallant may have the job down pat but the legal aspect of her work changes frequently and paperwork has greatly increased. And she still gets questions she doesn't have the complete answer to — but she knows where to get the answers.
"You learn something new every day," she said.
Now she is passing her knowledge onto Ruth Knysh, who is being trained as her temporary replacement until the town hires a new clerk. Last year, voters opted to switch the position from an elected office to appointed. Gallant will also be around helping Knysh with the state primary in April and the town and state election in June.
While she says it is hard to believe she will be leaving the office for the last time, she also has visions of herself on whale watches off Cape Cod or walking the beach and traveling in her retired life. She is considering taking a part-time job or doing volunteer work — maybe even back in the medical field with hospice care.
Whatever it is, she knows she will find things to keep her busy.
"I'll miss my co-workers but I'll really miss the residents," Gallant said. "I love my job. I like taking care of the residents but it is time to move on and do something different."