By Steve Dunfey
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, August 12, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
Every community needs people who are willing to get involved in civic affairs without seeking recognition or financial rewards or titles. There are people who participate and engage as a matter of habit and interest. Bob Preston of Hampton fulfills this role. Although he spent 18 years in the New Hampshire State Senate and mixed with powerful politicians, he steps up to the plate in helping his fellow man without a lot of fanfare. He is a member of what has now come to be called the 'greatest generation' due to the service and sacrifice given to the country without complaint.
After graduating from Keith Academy in Lowell MA, Preston served in the US Army as a military police sergeant in Italy during World War II. He also served in the Korean Conflict. For his work on behalf of veterans he has been awarded the Conspicuous Service Award from the Adjutant General of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He married Charlotte Keefe and he attended St. Anselm's College and thanks to the GI Bill, graduated from Salem State College with a degree in education, although it took some time. Preston says "I was a blue collar kid at the time. I was in college with five kids. I didn't even get to my graduation. But they did name me alumni of the year in 1990." He has taught at the high school and college level (business management courses at the University of New Hampshire).
In the 1950's he got his first job at Hampton Beach as a dishwasher at Kelley's Restaurant on C Street at Hampton Beach. Over the years, Preston would own and operate 3 restaurants on the beach including Preston's Fine Foods where the Sea Ketch is now on the boulevard. Preston has been a small business owner for fifty years including Preston Real Estate in Seabrook and Hampton. That too is a family affair where three generations of Prestons work. His involvement in the business community led him to become President of the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. He also became a Founder and Director of the Seabrook Bank and Trust, a member of the Seacoast Business and Professional Association, charter member of the Rotary Club of Seabrook and Hampton Falls and Seacoast Businessman of the year in 1990.
Preston, a Democrat, first entered elected politics in 1964 with a run for Senate in a heavily Republican district. "Nobody thought I could win," he says. "But I did by about 1,000 votes. Then my residency requirement was challenged and I served for only 11 hours. I could have taken it to the U.S. Supreme Court but I didn't have the money. Then Governor John King appointed me Supervisor of Commercial Development for three years. But I was pretty busy." Preston would run and win for the State Senate again in 1972. He won again and then eight more times spending the next 18 years serving there. The salary there is only $100 a year. "It cost me a lot of money," says Preston. "But I really enjoyed it. I wasn't influenced by anybody. Republicans and Democrats supported me. In some elections I won with as much as 80% of the vote in Hampton. Then there were other elections with no opposition. It was an honor and a privilege. You get to meet people from all walks of life in that position."
In the Senate, Preston served eight years as the Democratic Leader. He also served as Chairman of the Committee on Resources, Development and Environment, Chairman of the Transportation Committee and as a member of the Rules, Finance, Capital Budget and Executive Departments Committees. When it came to legislation, Preston served as a member of the Democratic State Committee and as a Delegate to the 1980 Democratic Convention in support of then President Jimmy Carter. He got to know Carter quite well when he campaigned in New Hampshire in 1976 and he introduced him to the State Senate. In the early 1990's, Preston ran unsuccessfully for Congress and Governor but it did not diminish his desire for service. Near the end of his tenure in the State Senate, he became involved in the creation of the Pease Development Authority when the Federal Government shut down the Pease Air Force base. Pease has become one of the most successful examples of military base conversions in the country. About a year ago, State Senate President Sylvia Larsen appointed Preston to the PDA board. "People originally fought the closure," says Preston. "It is now one of the most unique developments of its kind. We make a profit. And we contribute to the State's Business Profits Tax and other taxes." There are now over 250 companies employing approximately 7,000 people at Pease and another 3,500 hundred people indirectly employed by companies doing business with those located on Pease. Pease generates a total of over $10 million in tax revenues to the state and almost $5 million to the city of Portsmouth in property taxes.
Several years ago, due to the history of poor performance of the New Hampshire State Port Authority, the Pease Development Authority was authorized to take over its functions which include the operation of the state pier and authority over the state's harbor facilities and tidal waters. "We really did not want to take over the port but Geno Marconi (Port Director) is doing a great job. The state also just gave us the Skyhaven Airport in Rochester. I say sell it! The only money losing aspect of Pease is the airport. We have a beautiful new terminal, now we need a dependable commercial carrier." Board meetings for Preston come, "once a week. It is an honor to work with some wonderful companies and board members like Peter Loughlin and John Bohenko, the Portsmouth city manager." The Preston family also has his hands in helping the needy who populate Hampton Beach in the "off' season. In 1989, Saint Vincent's Kitchen was established by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society to serve free meals to the needy. Preston donates the space at 37 Ashworth Avenue. Last year there were over 4,300 meals served, some 60 to 100 every night and according to Preston, "there are 100 volunteers and Dick Glennon deserves all of the credit for this." Preston also provides space for the Hampton Free Medical Clinic, staffed by Dr. Jay Kaminski and many volunteers and van from the Exeter Hospital. Anybody who shows up during clinic hours will be treated. According to Preston, 9,000 people were treated there last year.
Another charity to mention: the 100 Club of New Hampshire. "As a family we are committed to that organization," says Preston. Son Bob Preston, Jr. is most heavily involved. He has served as president of this organization that supports families of police and fire personnel who lose their lives in the line of duty. Since 1966, the 100 Club has paid out $3 million in support of these families. They just had a successful golf tournament fundraiser that raised $83,000.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Preston is one of 18 founding members of the Live Free or Die Alliance a new, non-partisan organization dedicated to being what he calls, "a watchdog group that looks to see that costs are not passed on to local communities." Their mission states that it is, "a very broad based organization of individuals who subscribe to the traditional Live Free Or Die principles that have made our state so great." Preston is joined in this effort by Seacoast residents Paul and Sandra Montrone, Russ and Marcy McCann and Doug and Stella Scamman as founding members.
Did we mention the greatest generation? Look for Bob Preston to continue as a representative of that ethic.