I learned a thing or two about chemistry in George Hussey’s chemistry class at Falmouth High School. His affable manner and kind demeanor were great ingredients in a recipe for learning. The fact that, these many years later, I look at a periodic table with some affection and excitement is testament to Mr. Hussey’s teaching abilities (and perhaps a tad indicative of my oddity).
Anyway, my eccentricity aside, George Hussey taught me in those sessions that some elements just don’t mix—sometimes the interaction of certain components of a mélange just does not produce a positive and productive result. The key to understanding chemistry is to embrace that simple and basic fact: that sometimes things just don’t mix and success is found in a new combination of elements.
This week’s election of Susan Moran and Sam Patterson to the board of selectmen will most certainly alter the chemistry of our group of chief elected officials, and most probably modify it for the better. Let me begin my chemical analysis by offering thanks and praise to outgoing selectmen Brent Putnam and Kevin Murphy, both of whom offered up their Monday nights and countless other hours for years on Falmouth’s behalf. Their efforts are both worthy of our acclaim and gratitude. In particular, Kevin’s support of our business community and his work on behalf of small businesses and his recognition of their significance to our local economy will have lasting impacts and benefits long after his term officially ends this weekend.
But something just didn’t click with this chemical equation lately, perhaps for a while. The coffee shop prognosticators will gladly share their theories about what was wrong and place responsibility at a variety of people’s feet in both elected and appointed positions, but the simple answer can be found in the lesson of George Hussey: the chemistry just wasn’t right. In separate but equally impressive and hope-inducing interviews with our two soon-to-be selectmen, I gathered information that has led me to a hopeful hypothesis: Susan and Sam will alter the chemistry of the board of selectmen in a positive and lasting way.
Both bring a commitment to consensus and life and professional experiences that lend themselves to building a bridge between villages and with other elected and appointed boards. Susan’s theme of “One Falmouth,” so wonderfully depicted by emerging local artist Marcus Dalpe in her campaign literature, is a powerful metaphor for her skills as a mediator and consensus builder—and her approach to uniting some divided elements of our community. When we chatted about her goals as a newly elected selectman, she simply noted that she wants to “put an oar in the water and work to keep our quality of life.” That’s a good foundation, and the oar metaphor is a good start to getting the board—and then the community—rowing in the same direction.
Sam’s work on the school committee for several years has provided a solid training ground for his new role in helping lead a community. He developed a reputation as a positive force and thoughtful decision-maker in his years in the School Administration Building, and his work for a generation as a leader of young men as a volunteer with Troop 40 of the Boy Scouts of America has provided him with a perspective—and a desire—to continue to make a better world. During our chat this week, he even seemed to reference the Boy Scout Promise, and when I noted that to him, he beamed with pride, the sincere and hopeful twinkle in his eye indeed demonstrating that he is prepared to “help other people at all times,” as the Scout Promise instructs him to do.
It is certainly possible—and perhaps evident with our two new local leaders—that good chemistry and commitment to community can be learned. Both Sam and Susan point to a strong influence and positive lessons from their fathers in pursuing public service. Susan fondly recalled her youth in Stoneham and observations of her dad, a sound engineer with WGBH, exposing her to his commitment to equality and grass-roots community organizing. She brings those lessons and that same commitment to the corner conference table. Sam draws from the same type of civic commitment in his youth and similar lessons from his dad. They both hope to spark a chemical reaction that extends far beyond Town Hall Square and excites a new generation of Falmouthites to get involved in local government.
I often drone on fondly about an era of good chemistry in the early to mid-’90s when the voters kept the same board of selectmen—and maintained a homeostasis of chemistry—for six years running. Through six elections from 1993 to 1998, the voters returned the same five people to the board, making a clear statement that they agreed that things were stable, progressive, and respectful. There were varied personalities, philosophies, and approaches to leadership and consensus on that long-lasting board, but there was chemistry, and that was the binding agent that made a successful compound element, as Mr. Hussey would say. I’m looking forward to this new board proving my hypothesis: Good chemistry has arrived back at the corner conference table, and we, the people, will be the beneficiaries.