Published DateALTON — Pat Rockwood first held the secretary's pen at the age of 13, when she began providing secretarial services to the "Loyal Workers" youth group at her church in Melrose, Mass. With a fondness for the written word and an interest in people, she fell quickly into the role. "It was just something that came to me naturally," said Rockwood.
The "Loyal Workers" was the first stint in a career that saw her serve for many businesses and organizations over nearly 60 years of work. For the past two decades, Rockwood has been the executive secretary and welfare officer for the Town of Alton. On Friday, she will retire and will be succeeded by Mary Jarvis, who has been working part-time in the Town Hall for a few years.
Rockwood, who is turning 73 in May, was born in Boston and went to high school in Wakefield, Mass., and took various courses at a few Massachusetts colleges. Yet, from a very early age, New Hampshire played a large role in her life.
As a young girl, Rockwood's family split its summers between Alton Bay — the Christian Conference Center, specifically — and a dairy farm in East Haverhill owned by her grandparents. It was at that farm that she caught the attention of David "Pete" Rockwood, who worked for Pat's grandparents on the farm. The two married 51 years ago and have three children and four grandchildren.
Professionally, Rockwood worked for several companies in Massachusetts. One of her more interesting posts was with the Air Force Officer's Club in Wichita, Kan., where she worked from 1964 to 1968. "I met all kinds of interesting entertainment of the era — guitarists, comics, musical groups," she recalled. It was a bittersweet atmosphere, though, because those entertainers were putting on the last show the airmen would enjoy before being shipped off to the Vietnam War.
Throughout their lives, they kept memories of Alton Bay in mind. Though living in Ayer, Mass., at the time, they purchased a cabin cruiser in 1989 that they kept docked in Lake Winnipesaukee, and a year later they had built their retirement home in Alton Bay. Her retirement was short-lived, though, and in 1992 she was hired by the Town of Alton.
"I could have retired at any time, but I enjoyed my job," said Rockwood. "And, I don't mind working."
In her role, she's enjoyed working with each of the eight town administrators that have come through Town Hall. "I like being aware of what's going on in town — all the different people and the social environment," she said. She's also enjoyed the luxury of having her lunch delivered to her, sometimes by her husband, other times by her son Benjamin, who works as a mechanic at Parker Marine.
Her role in Town Hall has allowed her to indulge her love of history. For each of the 20 Annual Reports she's helped develop, Rockwood has authored a page or two about a historical aspect of town; most recently she focused on the Alton Bay Water Bandstand. "I do like research," she said.
She found that she also liked the role of welfare officer for the town, a subject she had no experience in prior to coming to Alton. "We do have a lot of welfare clients for such a small town," she said, adding that she enjoys the opportunity to help connect a resident with support networks. Whenever she received a note of appreciation from a client, she said, "I loved it."
Working in town for so long, she's seen hard times, such as in 1996 when an earthen dam failed, flooding the area of town by the fire station and causing one fatality.
She's also experienced one of Town Hall's notorious ghostly residents. Many have reported hearing phantom footsteps on the building's very creaky floors. Rockwood, working late one night, saw a plaid-shirted apparition that appeared in the office of her doorway. She isn't shaken, though. "It doesn't bother me to be here at night. Other people have experienced more." In fact, it's some of the more earthly occupants of the building that give her anxiety. Even with her decades of experience, she admitted that she still holds her breath whenever selectmen examine the meeting minutes she's taken.
There have been heart-warming moments, too, such as the surprise brunch Town Hall employees put on for her after her final chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Rockwood was diagnosed with breast cancer and endured six months of daily treatments, ending in May of 2003. She listed the surprise brunch as one of her dearest memories of her tenure in Alton.
In her retirement, Rockwood looks forward to having more time to devote to her hobbies, such as playing the piano, scrap-booking, reading, and cultivating her collection of more than 500 dolls. She and Pete also plan to do a lot of traveling with their 27-foot Airstream camper, which they plan to pull to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, to Florida, and to California, all within the coming year.
"She's taking a wealth of knowledge with her," said Jarvis.
"She'll be very missed," said Paulette Wentworth, the town's finance officer.
CAPTION for ROCKWOOD in AA:
Pat Rockwood, shown here at right, is retiring after serving for more than 20 years as the executive secretary and welfare officer for the town of Alton. Also shown is Mary Jarvis, who will succeed Rockwood. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)