By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 4, 2004
[Editor's note: At a celebration on Thursday evening, the town will honor former supervisor of the checklist Charlotte Preston and Town Moderator Paul Lessard. Today, Lessard is profiled. On Friday, Preston will be featured.]
retiring as the Hampton moderator.
[Photo by Jay Reiter]
HAMPTON - While in the Marine Corps, his fellow colleagues referred to him fondly as the "lizard" and the "godfather."
He won the respect of his colleagues through his heroic actions on and off the battlefield that earned him two Legion of Merit Awards, a Navy Commendation Medal, several combat medals and a Vietnam Service Medal with two stars.
But in Hampton, Col. Paul Lessard was known more as a peacekeeper than a fighter.
"We never lost control of a Town Meeting session," said Lessard, who served as town moderator for the last four years.
"When we had a lot of people upset about an issue, we always kept the peace. If they got really rowdy, then I'd take them aside and remind them that we're all here for the same reason, the betterment of the town."
Lessard, along with former Supervisor of the Checklist Charlotte Preston, will be honored Thursday night at the Galley Hatch Conference Center at the Inn of Hampton for dedication and service to the town. Lessard and Preston retired from town politics after the last annual town election.
"I was surprised that they were throwing us a party," Lessard said. "I'm not a big party person. I told them they didn't have to do this. I mean they already gave me a gavel at my last Town Meeting session."
For Lessard, it was time to put down his gavel and not run for re-election in order to give someone else a chance to serve the town. He said he also wanted to spend more time with his wife, Dottie, and his three grown children.
"It was just time," said Lessard. "I'm going to sit back and relax for a little. Right now, we have two Lessards serving the town. My brother is on the Zoning Board of Adjustment while my nephew is on the Planning Board. We have enough Lessards serving the town right now."
Lessard said his family always had a presence in Hampton. When he was a child, his father owned several restaurants and hotels at the beach. After he graduated from high school in 1951, Lessard made the decision to enter the Marine Corps.
"I didn't like the restaurant business that much," said Lessard.
After his illustrious military career, Lessard and his wife decided to return to Hampton to retire and live out their golden years.
But retirement didn't sit will with Lessard, who fought numerous battles in Okinawa, the Philippines and Vietnam.
In 1991, Lessard became involved in town politics - not by choice but as a favor to one of his friends.
"It's kind of funny," said Lessard. "My wife and I had just finished walking the beach. I decided to take a shower when I heard the phone ring. I got out of the shower and ran to the phone. Someone asked me what I was doing and I told them I was taking a shower. They told me they needed help because they were short of checkers at the voting booths. So I got dressed and went down there."
The rest, as they say, is history. Lessard met then-Town Moderator John Walker and became his assistant.
"He was just a great guy," Lessard said. "He asked me if I would give him a hand and I said, 'Why not.'"
Not only did Lessard volunteer but so did his wife.
"I figured if I'm going to work all day she can at least come up for half the day and work with me," joked Lessard.
When Walker chose not to run for re-election in 1999, Lessard stepped up to the plate and ran for the open position.
Lessard said his role as town moderator was a tough job. Not only did he oversee the elections but all Town Meetings.
"We worked right alongside of the checkers and the town clerk," said Lessard. "People from the state have commented that we have one of best-run elections in the area. It wasn't just because of me, it was the people that worked with us."
Lessard credits Town Clerk Arleen Andreozzi, all the people who assist her, the Public Works Department and the women of the checklist for all their handwork and dedication to the town.
He said one of the most frustrating aspects of being town moderator was that a lot of residents don't attend Town Meeting sessions.
"That is when the town fathers present the warrant articles," said Lessard. "A lot of people don't go to that, which is too bad."
Lessard said he was glad that the last election brought out a record number of voters.
"It was a good way to leave," Lessard said. "We had 5,000 residents who came out to vote. That's half the residents in town. A lot of people think the main reason why we had so many voters was because of the school articles. I think the main reason was because residents were concerned about money management and their property taxes."
One of the most difficult aspects of being a town moderator is staying neutral and never giving out your opinion on issues in town, Lessard said.
Now that he's out of the limelight as town moderator, Lessard said he's going to start giving his opinion on issues, including the redevelopment of Hampton Beach.
"The center at the beach has to be built," said Lessard. "Hampton has a lot of work ahead of itself. That is an old beach. People who love this place want to come back to the place that they remember."
While Lessard gears up for his retirement bash, he said the chances of him running for office is the future are slim. But he and his wife will still volunteer in the community in some form or another.
"I met some great people," Lessard said. "Our family wasn't born here but we grew up here. Our family has always been the volunteer people. We owe Hampton a lot. It's one hell of a town."
and also, Retiring Town Election Officials Honored By Residents]