MONMOUTH — Pauline McDougald went to work in the Town Office after an unexpected phone call. A lot changed in town over the next four decades, but McDougald remained a constant until retiring from the Board of Selectmen last month. After 39 years of service, McDougald has no regrets.

“I loved my town,” McDougald said. “I did all I could to make the taxpayers happy.”

McDougald, 85, known to many in town as Polly, called her final meeting to order on June 25. Selectmen marked the occasion with cake and a plaque that lauded her employment with the town from 1975 to 1994, during which she served as deputy treasurer, deputy town clerk and interim town manager. That run was followed by 20 years on the Board of Selectmen, much of which she served as chairwoman.

“I was some surprised,” McDougald said of the going-away party.

Public Works Director Herb Whittier, who took a job with the town a few years before McDougald and has worked with her since, said she excelled as both a town administrator and representative on the Board of Selectmen.

“It’s not easy,” Whittier said. “It can be pretty smooth, but it can be pretty rough. It’s not easy for a chairman to handle that. She did a heck of a job.”

McDougald and her husband, Holson McDougald, have been married for 65 years. The couple had three children, Tommy, Suzanne and Victoria. The girls, as the McDougalds still call them, live out of state and have given the couple grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are the couple’s joy. Tommy McDougald was killed in a car crash in 1974 when he was just 17. The pain, which never really leaves, played a role in driving McDougald, who had always labored for her husband and children at home, into the outside workforce.

“That’s the worst thing that can happen to anybody,” she said. “I had to get out of the house.”

Town Manager Bob Smith heard McDougald was looking for a job and called her up to offer her a position as a deputy treasurer in the Town Office. McDougald never had been interested in town government. She jumped in anyway.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said. “He was very nice to me and helped me. That’s how I got so far as I did.”

That ascension quickly took her to the position of deputy town clerk and then, when Paul Bird left, interim town manager. She would hold that position on at least one other occasion. She remembers some people felt she lacked the proper education to hold the position of town manager, but she says Bird knew she was ready. Things went so well that McDougald later was asked to take the position permanently. She wasn’t interested.

“You don’t need to have an education,” she said. “You have to listen and find out how it goes. He just said, ‘You can do it.’ I didn’t have any trouble.”

Work became a refuge of sorts for McDougald. She has beaten cancer three times — she has been in remission from her most recent bout for more than two years — and still calls the first diagnosis one of the most frightening moments of her life. As she had after Smith’s job offer, and when asked to serve as town manager, McDougald faced the fear head-on.

“I went (for treatment) every day for 25 days right after work,” she said. “That got me through.”

McDougald said she was encouraged to run for selectman when she retired from the town in 1994. McDougald, who was born in North Monmouth and has lived there her whole life, thought she could help her town by serving on the board.

“I know a lot of people,” her husband said. “They like their town, but she goes further than that.”

When asked to reflect on her service to the town, McDougald finishes nearly every thought with the assertion that she did the best she could but wonders if it was enough. She fears rising property taxes will force people, particularly the elderly on fixed incomes, to leave their homes.

“That hurts me more than anything in this world,” she said. “I just don’t want to see anybody pushed out. I love my town. If I could do more for it, I would.”

Whittier said McDougald wanted to give as much as she could for as long as she could.

“A lot of times you have to do extra to help people,” Whittier said. “That’s what service is all about. That’s what Polly was all about.”

Selectman Doug Ludewig first got to know McDougald when he worked as a part-time police officer in the 1970s and ’80s. He joined McDougald on the Board of Selectmen in 2001.

“She knows everything that you can know about the town,” Ludewig said. “As a selectman, she knew how things were supposed to work. She was a big help with that, and probably to the town manager as well as the board.”

The town McDougald loves, of course, is made up of people. That’s who she says she will remember. She recalls the kindness of town managers, including current manager Curtis Lunt, and the professionalism of emergency chiefs, such as Fire Chief Dan Roy and Police Chief Kevin Mulherin. She says she’ll recall co-workers, such as Whittier and Deputy Treasurer Mary Mead, who joined the Town Office staff in 1979.

“I loved them all,” McDougald said. “They’re all wonderful people.”

The McDougalds have no special plans for retirement. Neither Pauline’s legs nor Holson’s memory are what they used to be, but he still rushes across the room to help her out of a chair when she needs a lift. They’ll look forward to visits from their children and grandchildren and in between just enjoy each other’s company. They’ve been together more than 60 years, and so far it’s working out pretty well.

“That’s a long time with the same guy, but I don’t need to train another one,” Pauline said wryly. “We’ve had a good life together. We’ve had some heartbreak, but we had to keep going. Everyone says I’m going to be sorry I retired, but it was time for me to give up and live my life like I like to.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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