A Life: Ella Casey; ‘She did everything in Newport’

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 01-16-2023 1:32 PM

NEWPORT — When Ella Casey arrived in Newport in the mid-1960s, she hit the ground running and rarely stopped for the next 50-plus years, involving herself in more town and community endeavors than anyone can recall

Casey, who died at age 92 on October 10, 2022, after a brief illness, could well be considered Newport’s unofficial ambassador. From the Newport Winter Carnival and the August Apple Festival to the polling place at election time, running the Chamber of Commerce and numerous boards and committees, Casey was a constant presence around every corner in Newport.

As president of the Chamber for 20 years, a position she held until age 91, Casey was always out front promoting Newport but her chamber duties were just one piece of Casey’s presence in town.

“She did everything in Newport,” said her daughter, Jamie Teague. “She was active in the Library Arts Center, the Opera House, just a million things.”

Casey moved to Newport with her two young daughters in 1966. They were later joined by her husband, James, after he finished his military career which took them to different parts of the country.

“She brought somewhat of a world view to Newport,” said Selectboard Chairman Jeff Kessler, who knew Casey through various activities in town and remembers stopping to chat with her at the chamber office. “She was very easy to get along with. She was always there for Newport and knew a lot of what was going on.

Newport was going to be another temporary stop for the Casey family but Ella found the townspeople so welcoming, said her daughter, Jamie, that she decided to stay and the family bought a house on Oak Street Extension.

She began working at a local bank on Main Street and remained there, through various name changes, for 30 years before retiring. After a few other jobs, she took over the chamber.

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Former Newport Town Clerk Karlene Stoddard worked under Casey at the bank for a few years.

“She was just a great person, great to work for and a super nice friend,” said Stoddard, who remembered her boss telling her ‘just call me Casey.’ ”

“She was always involved in something. I don’t know of anything she didn’t do.”

Though they worked together only a few years, when one became friends with Casey, that friendship was forever and the two women also worked together when Casey was a supervisor of the checklist.

“We stayed close,” Stoddard said.

Teague said her mother, despite being in the public eye, was deeply private did not often talk about all that she did. She learned a strong work ethic in her youth and that is what inspired her to be constantly on the go, Teague said.

“I think it was a work ethic instilled in her at a young age,” Teague said. “My grandmother was a business woman in the 1930s. She owned a diner.

“My mother did not fit the mold of someone born in the 1930s because she was a career woman all her life,” Teague said.

There were two things that drove her mother’s desire to be as involved as she was in the town: “My mother hated to be bored and she enjoyed people.”

There was never a sense of obligation or duty to volunteer on boards, committees and many other endeavors; helping her adopted community in whatever way she could was a labor of love for Casey.

One of her closest friends the last 20 years was Donna Mahair, owner of the Petal Patch on Main Street.

“She was the most amazing woman,” Mahair said. “Always going 100 miles an hour.”

Mahair said soon after she opened her business in 2001, Casey, who had recently become the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, stopped by one day and that became a daily routine.

“She would come in every day at 11 and have coffee and hold court,” Mahair said, adding that her friend persuaded her to become president of the chamber, a position she held for nine years. “It got to the point where everybody in town knew that at 11, Ella Casey was at the Petal Patch. They would come ask questions and talk. She did that every day for 17 years. This became her second office and I met more people through Ella. She has just been one of my best friends over the years.”

Jan McMahon would often pick up the phone and hear “Hey kid,” a familiar Casey greeting to many who knew her.

“I would get a call and she would say, ‘hey kid. What you got going on.’ And I would say, what do you need and off we would go,” said McMahon, who knew Casey for about 50 years.

“Ella was always there,” McMahon said. “She did a lot for the town, raising donations, getting people in touch with the right people.

“It was her nature. If somebody needed something, she was there. She had a good heart and always knew the right thing to do.”

Casey was born with an adventurous and slightly mischief streak that carried on into adulthood. She learned to fix cars with her father, played fiddle for a while in a band and spent her youth working for her mother during the summer at a camp in Bradford, N.H.

McMahon remembered the time she had to fill in on short notice for a Girl Scout troop that had planned a camp weekend and convinced her close friend to join her.

“There was a wood stove in the cabin and I knew nothing about wood stoves,” McMahon said. “But Ella did and she got it going. It rained a lot but that cabin was warm and dry thanks to Ella.”

Her list of board, clubs and committees included the annual winter carnival, Newport Business and Professional Women’s Club, Newport Rotary, Economic Development Corp., 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee, Newport Planning Board and Newport Historical Society. She was the first female Little League Coach in the early 1970s and played powder puff football to raise money.

On the long list are the things few may have known about, McMahon said.

“She was instrumental behind the scenes,” McMahon said. “She wanted to stay in the background like she had nothing to do with it.”

Casey, a strong Democrat, campaigned for Jimmy Carter ahead of the 1976 presidential election. But she had high regard for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who came to Casey’s service.

“She loved Sununu,” Mahair said.

When Sununu came to town to celebrate renovations to the Opera House a couple of years ago, he made a point to stop by Casey’s office and talk for a while.

“I think that speaks well of her,” Kessler said. “She may have been a strong Democrat but that was not a political position. Ella worked with everyone in the community and got along well with everyone.”

Casey didn’t talk about doing things, she just did them, said her daughter.

“It was a matter of knowing something needed to get done and if there aren’t people willing to do it then you push up your sleeves and get busy because people need help and things needed to get done.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com

CORRECTION: Ella Casey and her daughters moved to Newport in 1966, joined later by  her husband, James. James Casey’s first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. 

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