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Charlotte Reid: pioneer in local government

LAKEVILLE — With closely trimmed wavy hair, eyes that took in everything, a ready smile, articulate,  compact, quick-motioned, Charlotte H. Reid was ably equipped to offer gushing praise or barbed rejoinder as the situation warranted. She set the bar high for future women (and men) government officials in the Northwest Corner.

For that matter, she was no slouch as a newspaper reporter.

Reid, 93, of Lakeville, died Saturday at Sharon Hospital. An obituary notice appears on Page A10. A memorial service will be held Sept. 24, 11 a.m., at Salisbury Congregational Church.

“I’m so sad to lose her, and it was a tough road for her at the end of her life,” said state Rep. Roberta Willis (D-64), who began her political activism with Reid as a mentor.

“I started working with Charlotte when I was in my 20s. She was part of a group of strong and even intimidating (especially to a 20-year-old) Salisbury women who were on the ground making community changes. They were very smart, community-oriented women who all took leadership roles. I’m so glad I knew them all.”

Willis continued, “Charlotte was from here, then left and came back to raise her family. She contributed so much to the town of Salisbury, she cared so deeply about it, right up until the day she died. So much of what we see in Salisbury, so much of what the town has become, is because of Charlotte’s vision.

“She was one of the founders of the mental health center, started the employment program, brought up affordable housing as an issue back when she was active in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“She was a force to be reckoned with, and I mean that in a positive way,” said state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30). “She was a strong, intelligent person and she cared deeply about the town of Salisbury, that’s for sure.”

After her career in town government, Reid was convinced by then-publisher Robert Hatch to work as a reporter for The Lake-
ville Journal. Roraback recalls that when he was running for the General Assembly in 1992, he was campaigning one day at 7 a.m. in front of the On the Run coffee shop in Lakeville.

“You’d think you’d be safe from the press at 7 a.m., but Charlotte arrived with her camera. She was very strong on policy issues, both as an elected official and as a journalist.

“Salisbury has lost a giant.”

After serving as first selectman of Salisbury from 1973 to 1989, Reid for the next decade reported news for The Journal.

Robert H. Estabrook, editor and publisher emeritus, is a contemporary of Reid’s. He covered her work as a municipal official and community activist, and although the two often clashed, they respected each other and became friends.

“Charlotte Reid was a remarkably far-sighted and competent civic leader,” he said this week.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand noted Reid’s “distinguished career” and her role as a co-founder of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST).

“She represented the town’s interests well.”

Rand also spoke about Reid’s work in establishing recreation and summer programs for Salisbury’s youth.

“These programs are still going strong. They are a testament to her vision and dedication to young people in Salisbury.”

William E. Little Jr., owner and chairman of The Lakeville Journal Company and a long-time friend of Reid’s, said, “Charlotte was an amazing and lovely woman with a terrific intellect and a wonderful life of accomplishment. I loved Charlotte Reid.”

Marsden Epworth, editor of the Compass arts and entertainment section of The Lakeville Journal, was a reporter covering the town of Sharon when Reid was writing on Salisbury doings.

Epworth recalled that at times Reid would look up from her knitting — which she invariably took with her to meetings — to offer her wisdom on matters at hand.

Willis added, “She always had to know what was going on, even in her later years, on national, state and local politics. She got other people motivated and she was a force to be reckoned with. She got the Democratic party going strong in Salisbury, at a time when you could fit all the Salisbury Democrats into a phone booth.

“She also got the community through the crisis of the burning of the Salisbury Town Hall in 1985, and then the building of the new one,” Willis said. “This was so important for the town.

“Salisbury was far more innovative than other towns because of Charlotte’s vision. She received statewide recognition as a leader. She won awards, such as one from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, for a well-managed community. She was one of the group that started COST, which I still work with as a legislator.

“Yet Charlotte was the last one to take credit for anything, never wanted to take ownership of all that she did. She saw that as puffery, and wouldn’t go for that. She’d give the credit to others first.”

Janet Manko and Patrick Sullivan contributed to this article.

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