View from Glen Hill: Losing two of our best

Our town is taking two heavy hits in retirements this summer: Mrs. Bettye Ragognetti as town clerk and Dr. Gary Richards as school superintendent. Both have contributed enormously to our town.

Bettye came to her position as town clerk almost 14 years ago, having served for seven years as an administrative secretary for our town and then for two years as the first selectman’s executive assistant (gatekeeper, in effect, to our town’s senior leadership) first for Bob Russell and then for Paul Hannah. Her promotion to town clerk came on the recommendation of longtime Wilton CFO Joe Dolan (now retired) with Paul and Bob’s hearty endorsement.

All three recognized in Bettye a person able to lead effectively and act decisively, having a broad knowledge of our town and the ability to address citizens’ needs and concerns, and to know how and where to have those needs best met.

All of those skills fit well with the demands of the town clerk position.

The significance of the town clerk’s position is reflected in the fact that it is one of the few state-mandated positions in municipal government. Among the town clerk’s many responsibilities that involve interaction with the public are those related to oversight of our town records — everything from vital statistics on births, marriages, and deaths to real property records.

When Bettye took office, records, including especially real property ones, were manually maintained. As real property transactions in town grew enormously in the 1990s and beyond, computerization of our town’s real-property records became essential. Fortunately, Bettye’s many skills include “embracing technology,” as both Bob Russell and Joe Dolan put it, and her enthusiasm for computerization made the transition much easier.

The need for new physical storage accommodations for real-property records grew commensurately, and Bettye also saw to it that new storage technologies, using such things as sliding filing systems, were employed so that the same (highly limited) space in Town Hall could accommodate multiples of its former capacity.

In all of these changes, Bettye was both a visionary and a facilitator to ensure that changes made worked well from the start and that staff and users alike felt comfortable with them. Her engaging personality and always-welcoming manner made facilitation easier and have endeared her to both town staff and residents.

Dr. Gary Richards

For Dr. Gary Richards, accolades from school board members, parents, and students have been overwhelming, and rightly so. Those accolades have also come in heartfelt words from staff members who have served with him during his 10 years as superintendent here (capping 27 years of service as superintendent in New Canaan and California as well as here).

Those staff members speak movingly of how much his leadership has advanced and supported them. Indeed, he has become a veritable Johnny Appleseed of superintendents across this entire region as staff trained under his leadership have advanced to superintendent posts in no fewer than four other districts. The interim director of human resources for our schools has said how he came here from Hartford and out of retirement for the privilege of working with Gary after hearing so much about the excellence of his leadership. Gary’s style is consultative, empowering, and team-building, and he has made necessarily lean administrative staffing in the superintendent’s office nonetheless work very effectively.

His selection as superintendent came when our town was striving to find the right person to succeed to that position after so many successful years of Dr. David Clune’s service as superintendent. Wilton’s selection committee interviewed more than 50 candidates from around the country, and the wisdom of their choice of Gary has been confirmed many times over by students, teachers, staff members, and parents.

Gary’s impact for the good is reflected in school rankings at the top of not only our state but also our nation, and that is surely one measure of performance.

But his influence is reflected at least equally importantly in the values that assure that our children’s education goes, most profoundly, to the heart of that which our town is seeking to provide to our young people: Preparation to deal with the challenges of a complex and demanding world at the same time that they are prepared also to consider the needs of others and how they can find fulfillment and joy in using their talents to transcend self-interest alone.

Out town has been fortunate indeed in Gary Richards’ and Bettye Ragognetti’s leadership roles, and we wish them all the best as they now enjoy their well-deserved retirement.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.