By Rod Lee
In deciding not to run for re-election this year, Dudley Selectman Peter Fox can look back on two decades of service to an adopted hometown for which he has deep affection.
Dudley residents are no doubt familiar with Mr. Fox’s contributions as a member of a board that he considers to be an “excellent” steward of the municipality’s well-being (“we don’t always agree, but we respect one another,” he says).
What they might not know is the entire extent of his involvement with town governance, going back to the late 1990s. It is impressive to say the least: South Worcester County Communications Center Board of Directors; Capital Improvement Committee; selectmen’s representative to the Economic Development Committee; Finance Committee; chair of the Personnel Committee; Zoning Board of Appeals; Long Range Planning Committee (“that’s where I first started, with Laurie Connors who is now in Millbury”) and selectmen’s liaison to the Personnel Board.
All of these, capped by “one year short of two terms” on the Board of Selectmen after being elected to fill the shoes of the late Anthony B. DiDonato Sr. in December of 2011.
“It’s been wonderful,” Mr. Fox, dressed in a Nautica pullover top, jeans and sneakers and wearing black-framed glasses, said on March 28th during an interview in a conference room on the third floor of the municipal complex on West Main St. “It’s just time. If it was a one-year commitment I would do it in a heartbeat. But after three more years I would be seventy-eight.”
None of the many hats he has donned would have been possible, he said, without the understanding of his wife Betsy. “She’s the one who asks ʽwhat meeting are you going to now?’” he said, laughing. “She has been my support.”
Originally from suburban Mt. Vernon, New York, Mr. Fox worked at Norton Co. in Worcester in middle management in the shipping department for twenty-five years until his retirement. Dudley attracted him as a place to live, he said, because of its rural countryside feel and its “low taxes” and “excellent school system.” Both of he and Betsy’s children have done alright for themselves, which gives him great satisfaction. One daughter “became a skier and lives in Australia.” Their eldest daughter lives in Wisconsin with her physician husband and does research for hospitals. The Foxes have three grandchildren.
He describes himself as “an animal lover,” as attested to by the two dogs and a cat he and his wife care for, and a history with show horses.
He does not hesitate in ticking off what he thinks of as his accomplishments as a municipal servant, deferring praise to the entire board.
“The Board has been fortunate to keep taxes low through difficult financial times (Dudley has one of the lowest tax rates in the Commonwealth). We were fortunate to have hired Greg Balukonis as town administrator. We got the new fire station approved after five years. There will be a groundbreaking in late spring or early summer.” In regard to the controversial siting of a Muslim cemetery in town, he says “I will only say I support the agreement that is in place.”
Much credit for Dudley’s health as a town, he said, goes to “our outstanding first responders and outstanding Town Hall employees who I think of as first responders themselves. People you don’t hear much about. They are part of the backbone of this community, a very active community.”
The hardest aspect of his role as a selectman, he said, has been “the budget and the school budget. Dealing with state mandates is very difficult. You have to do something but there is no financial help to do it. It costs us $40,000 per student to send five students to Norfolk (County Agricultural) and we have to provide the transportation. It’s mandated. We have been fortunate to provide services without going ballistic with the tax rate.”
As he steps aside to “teach horse-show students” and do more traveling, Mr. Fox urges residents of Dudley to volunteer for boards and commissions. “They should be active in the community,” he said.
He has for sure, and now he and Betsy Fox are in the midst of their annual two-week sojourn at their time share on St. Lucia “right smack on the ocean.”
He has earned the respite.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.