Town clerk retires after 40 years of service to Lyme

Outgoing Town Clerk Patty Jenks, left, receives a hug from Town Moderator Kevin Peterson while being honored for her 40 years of service in the Town Clerk’s Office during Town Meeting at the Lyme School in Lyme, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Outgoing Town Clerk Patty Jenks, left, receives a hug from Town Moderator Kevin Peterson while being honored for her 40 years of service in the Town Clerk’s Office during Town Meeting at the Lyme School in Lyme, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-25-2024 4:28 PM

LYME — The biggest part of Patty Jenks’ job as town clerk was to listen to people.

When someone would come to the clerk’s office who needed help beyond registering a vehicle or signing up to vote, Jenks would take them to another place to talk. She might not have been able to help them directly, but she often knew who could.

“More often than not, the listening was the critical factor,” Jenks said in a phone interview. “They just needed a place to land and to talk.”

Jenks, 69, retired earlier this month after 40 years working in the Lyme Town Clerk’s office — including nearly 30 years as the town clerk. She started as an assistant in 1984 when then town clerk Jean Smith asked if Jenks would be interested in helping out.

At the time, Jenks’ children were attending the Lyme School and the town clerk’s office was located across the street in the basement of the Converse Free Library.

“We did everything manually so it was a lot more time consuming,” Jenks said.

Vehicle registrations used to require quite a bit of research, from looking up its value in the “Red Book” to calculating mileage rates. That began to change when the clerk’s office got its first computer around 1991 and 1992. Jenks credits Smith with being an early adopter of technology.

“We both learned the computer business together,” Jenks said.

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She credits her longevity in the clerk’s office to the support she’s had from the town, her family and her friends.

“People were so good to me. That’s the biggest thing,” Jenks said. “I’ve always felt so appreciated and so cared about.”

In 1997 when Smith decided to retire, Jenks ran for the top job herself and was re-elected town clerk every election thereafter. New town clerk Emily Shepherd ran an uncontested this year to succeed Jenks.

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know her,” Shepherd said in a phone interview. “She’s been the town clerk my entire life.”

Similar to what Smith did for Jenks, Jenks did for Shepherd.

Jenks thought Shepherd would be a good fit for the job, and Shepherd spent around a year as an assistant clerk before taking the reins.

“It wasn’t anything I’d considered previously, but it was really inspiring to me learning from Patty and seeing how well she’s taken care of the town the last 40 years,” Shepherd, 25, said. “Despite how daunting it was to follow in her footsteps because she’s such a magnificent person, she really made me see how special it is to take care of the town and its people.”

Jenks influence went far beyond the clerk’s office. Martha Tecca, executive director of Community Care of Lyme, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 that supports residents with a food pantry, community events and aging in place resources, among other services, said Jenks’ ability to problem solve made other residents take notice of how they could do that on a larger scale.

“She honestly was an inspiration for the Community Care of Lyme,” Tecca said in a phone interview. Jenks served as its first director.

If Jenks knew a resident needed a hot meal, she brought one to them. If she knew someone needed a ride, she gave them one.

“She’s just rich in the ways that she’s been able to help people,” Tecca said.

There’s around 1,700 people living in Lyme, and at some point, most will have to interact with the town clerk. Sometimes that includes more emotional times, like needing a death certificate, or other more personal matters. The employees in the clerk’s office, Jenks included, make sure to give everyone the time they need beyond filling out paperwork.

“That is an important aspect of the job to me. I want to be able to help people,” Jenks said. “I want them to be able to go away from my space feeling like someone cares about them.”

One part of the job Jenks won’t miss too much is elections, which she said have become more stressful over the years.

“Because the political climate is so poor and people are so suspicious and accusatory — not to us but in general — and that just creates all kinds of hate and discontent for how elections are run and that underlying assumption that everyone is trying to do something bad,” Jenks said. “It’s such an icky feeling.”

Jenks will particularly miss her coworkers, including Sharon Greatorex who worked with Jenks for around 26 years in the clerk’s office.

“Patty and I had a very good working relationship,” Greatorex, who is a Lyme deputy town clerk, said in a phone interview. “We could know what the other one was thinking most of the time.”

Greatorex said she’d miss working alongside Jenks quite a bit but that it is time for younger generations to learn those roles.

That’s something Jenks was thinking about too. While she will continue to remain involved with the Community Care of Lyme and the town at large, she’s looking forward to her retirement.

“I really just want to enjoy Lyme and take little road trips,” Jenks said. “I’m not a big traveler, but I’d love to see the rest of New Hampshire and neighboring states and just relax.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.