At almost every recent selectmen’s meeting the chairman peers over his reading glasses into the almost empty auditorium and says, “Kathy, do you know.....”
He would be talking to Kathleen Coggeshall, whose encyclopedic knowledge of schedules, people, and events has served the selectmen and the town manager for more than three decades.
Ms. Coggeshall—typically bundled up in a fluffy white sweater in the first row of the always chilly town hall auditorium—inevitably has a quick answer to a selectman’s question, often without having to look anything up.
But on March 19, Ms. Coggeshall’s 60th birthday, the office manager for the selectmen and the town manager for 34.5 years will gather up her sweaters, knick-knacks, and memories and walk out of town hall for good.
“I just feel like it’s time to do something other than being an office person,” Ms. Coggeshall said of her impending retirement. “I’ve been working since I was 13.”
Not that she will have trouble finding other things to do. Ms. Coggeshall owns a 4-acre farm in Bourne, two llamas, three alpacas, a dog and a cat. She is an avid traveler, photographer and spinner of wool gathered from her lamoids.
She would like to buy a loom and learn how to weave, plant more vegetables and, of course, continue her travels around the world.
Ms. Coggeshall—the daughter of longtime Bourne Selectman Haydon Coggeshall and former Sandwich High School music teacher Joan Byrne—would also like to spend more time with her family.
But as much as she is looking forward to the future, Ms. Coggeshall said she will sorely miss her colleagues.
“I loved my time in Sandwich and I made good friends at work over all those years,” Ms. Coggeshall said.
Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham is at the top of that list.
“He’s the best. I can’t imagine having a better boss than Bud. He’s kind, he’s helpful, he never yells,” Ms. Coggeshall said. “We’ve been together so long. We have a great relationship.”
Mr. Dunham said last week that the feeling is mutual.
“She’s a wonderful person,” Mr. Dunham said. “If you’re someone in need, she’d give you her right arm. If you’re a friend, she’d give you all her appendages.”
Mr. Dunham, and other coworkers contacted for this story, however, took the opportunity to gently roast their longtime colleague.
Ms. Coggeshall could often be found in town hall’s upstairs kitchen/coffee room, Mr. Dunham said.
“She definitely needed three cups of coffee to be fully awake,” he said, and he always knew when she was upstairs brewing java because she does not have a quiet step.
“She walks purposefully and when she does, the whole building shakes,” Mr. Dunham said, adding that Ms. Coggeshall was instrumental in helping with the renovation of town hall and especially, in the décor of the auditorium.
Although her institutional knowledge of the town’s affairs and its people will be irreplaceable, the town manager is hoping a new office manager will be a bit more meticulous about their work space.
“She’s very outdoorsy and physical. She would have loved being born in the 1800s—taking down trees and building a house,” Mr. Dunham said. “But she’s not the most organized person and not one to help others get organized.”
Former Assistant Town Manager Douglas Lapp, who is now the town manager in Rockland, agreed with Mr. Dunham.
“Have you ever seen her desk?” he asked.
Nevertheless, Mr. Lapp said, Ms. Coggeshall did an excellent job of compiling the annual reports, tracking liquor licenses for bars and restaurants, and organizing employee events—all of which are time-consuming, exacting tasks.
“These were huge undertakings and she did a great job every year,” Mr. Lapp said. “She is the kindest, most honest person you will ever meet.”
Mr. Lapp and Human Resources Director Marie Buckner—who has also been with the town for decades—commented on Ms. Coggeshall’s mercurial shift of focus when engaged in conversation.
“She has squirrel moments,” Ms. Buckner said. “Something you say will trigger her memory about an unrelated topic and off she’ll go and you’ll be wondering, ‘What made her go there?’ ”
Ms. Coggeshall is quick to laugh, and that laugh, like her footsteps, can be heard throughout town hall.
“She has a big personality,” Ms. Buckner said. “She is a wonderful person.”
Ms. Buckner praised Ms. Coggeshall’s honesty and humor—and recounted a calamitous Christmastime knitwear incident.
One year Ms. Coggeshall was the Secret Santa for Ms. Buckner. Much to Ms. Buckner’s delight, the gift was a scarf hand-knitted by Ms. Coggeshall from llama wool.
Ms. Buckner wrapped the scarf around her neck and immediately went into anaphylactic shock—her skin turned red as a fire poker and she was gasping for breath.
“I had no idea I was allergic,” Ms. Buckner said. “I’ll never look at a llama the same way.”
And she will never forget Ms. Coggeshall.
“We laugh about it,” Ms. Buckner said. “She almost killed me.”