Hanover Civil Servant Brian Walsh Leaves a Lasting Legacy

  • Photographed on July 23, 2004, in Hanover, N.H., Brian Walsh is chairman of the Hanover Selectboard. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Brian Walsh, chairman of the Hanover Selectboard, thanks the town’s volunteers for their service during a gathering at Storrs Pond in Hanover, N.H., on Sept. 8, 2007. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph

  • Hanover Selectman Bill Baschnagel, left, and selectboard Chairman Brian Walsh laugh during Town Meeting in Hanover, N.H., on May 9, 2006. (Valley News - Travis Dove) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Travis Dove

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/6/2018 12:02:56 AM
Modified: 7/6/2018 12:03:08 AM

Hanover — Brian Walsh drew a vision of Hanover’s high school and new middle school on a paper napkin.

Walsh, who was chairman of the Hanover Selectboard at the time, called Town Manager Julia Griffin one morning and asked if she could meet him for coffee at Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery. There, detailing his idea on the napkin, Walsh sketched out a plan that had come to him hours earlier during a sleepless night that involved a complicated three-way swap of money and property among the town of Hanover, Dartmouth College and the Dresden School District that eventually would lead to the expansion of the high school and building the Richmond Middle School on Lyme Road.

In an instant, Walsh’s brainstorm resolved issues that had been festering for years over how to improve, expand and relocate the crowded and aging co-located high and middle school in downtown Hanover while addressing parents’ concerns in keeping the high school at its current site.

When Walsh retired after serving 15 years on the Hanover Selectboard in 2011, a colleague joked that the mammoth agreement among the three parties — in which each gave something up in return for getting something else — contained “slightly more provisions than the Treaty of Versailles,” said Kate Connolly, a former longtime Selectboard member.

“Brian made an enormous contribution to Hanover and it was beautifully done,” said Connolly, who now lives in Exeter, N.H. “He was a pleasure to work with and left us too soon.”

Walsh, who also had served on Hanover’s Planning Board and was integral in the deal that resulted in the building of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on what had been college-owned property in Lebanon, died on Tuesday near his home in New Castle, N.H. He was 74.

Walsh collapsed while resting when he was out on his regular morning bike ride, according to family members. People nearby attempted to revive him but were unsuccessful.

He is survived by his wife, Linda Patchett, two adult children from a previous marriage, and three adult stepdaughters, all of whom he was close with, friends and family said.

Walsh was an indefatigable public servant in Hanover, beginning when he joined the Planning Board in 1977 and then when he was elected to the Selectboard in 1996. In 1999, he was appointed chairman. One of his signature accomplishments in which he took pride was keeping the tax rate steady.

“He was just an amazing and intense guy,” Griffin said on Thursday. “When you talked with Brian, you had his full attention. He was always thinking about how to do things better.”

Walsh, who grew up in Winchester, Mass., arrived in Hanover to attend Dartmouth College, graduating in 1965 before earning advanced degrees at the Thayer School of Engineering and Columbia University, where he studied city planning. But he wasn’t a stranger to the Upper Valley: Walsh’s family had a summer home on Lake Sunapee, where his lifelong love of the water and sailing began and eventually figured into him and Linda retiring to the easternmost town in New Hampshire, where he could be close to the water and his stepdaughters, who live on the seacoast.

“He dedicated his life to the region and the Upper Valley,” said Steve Ensign, the former chief executive of Lake Sunapee Bank and a longtime friend of Walsh’s. “He knew how to reach out and connect with people, how to compromise and how to humbly lead.”

There aren’t many big projects that shaped today’s Hanover in which Walsh did not have an important hand, from preventing the old Mary Hitchcock from expanding at its former site on the north side of campus and instead creating the DHMC complex in Lebanon, the building of the multi-level parking garage in the center of town, to planning and constructing the Richmond Middle School north of downtown while renovating and expanding the high school.

Although some critics would sometimes grumble — typically without their name attached — that under Walsh the Selectboard could be too accommodating to Dartmouth and were suspicious that he sided with late Police Chief Nick Giaconne’s inflexible policy on underage student drinking, supporters contended he genuinely was concerned about binge drinking on campus as well as with the problem of sexual assault, just then becoming a topic of open discussion during his time.

Walsh’s training as an engineer and planner presaged his success in the working world, where he was involved in founding three technology companies, including the inkjet manufacturer Spectra Inc., now FujiFilm Dimatix, one of Lebanon’s leading manufacturers and employers. He retired from Spectra in 2003, which enabled him to dedicate more time to his various public service involvements — his resume reflected that he had served on no less than 16 boards, committees and organizations.

“He retired early and that’s when he really got involved with the town,” said Nick Harvey, a Hanover attorney who has been active in town affairs. “Brian was very good at listening to people and hearing diverse perspectives, analyzing the pros and cons and coming up with a good solution. In a contested situation, he could settle people and hear them out and develop a good relationship.

“The work he did with the schools was a good example of that. That was a very conflictual situation at the time,” Harvey said.

That’s exactly how Margaret Cheney, a commissioner on Vermont’s Public Utility Commission, remembers Walsh. A former chairwoman of the Dresden School Board, Cheney said the board had been studying for years ways to address Hanover’s aging and crowded high school and middle school, which at the time were located together at the site that today is the high school.

But when a plan to move both the high school and middle school out to land on Lyme Road ran into resistance among residents who thought the high school should remain connected with the center of town, the board was back to square one and undecided on how to move forward.

“That’s when Brian came in,” Cheney said. “He offered a path forward by bringing six of us together, two each from the town, the college and the school board, to solve the problem. After a series of meetings the six of us all agreed on a complex agreement of land (exchanges) and multimillion-dollar payments ... he was key at helping us arrive at a community solution.

“He didn’t act like he was in charge. He was inclusive and consensus building. So when the six of us were in the room, we all felt there was a way to solve the problem,” Cheney said.

While Walsh had a background in engineering and a career in business, he also had a well-known artistic side.

Griffin, the town manager, said the first time she met Walsh was during a public hearing — and he was sketching portraits on a pad of others who were speaking at the meeting.

“He was fascinated by the human form, particularly faces,” Griffin said. She related that sometimes she would get back Walsh’s budget documents, which would be illustrated with his drawings. “I think sketching was a way for him to be contemplative,” she said.

Harvey, the Hanover attorney, said that Walsh’s early retirement afforded his friend the opportunity to indulge his passion as a watercolorist.

“Watercolor was his specialty, gardens, landscapes, the Maine coast,” Harvey said. “Each year he published these little desk calendars, each month with a different watercolor, which he’d either sell or give as a departing gift to friends.” The proceeds would be donated to charity.

“He was very much the public servant,” Harvey said.

In fact, Patchett, Walsh’s wife, said her husband blanched when he heard people refer to it as “sitting on the Selectboard.” Instead, she said, he simply called it “public service.”

“He wanted people to be the best they could be,” Patchett said. “And to make sure personal interest did not rise above the public good. He was the most ethical man I’ve ever met. His inside always matched his outside.”

Patchett said her husband kept a daily journal. The top of each page began with five words, each one beginning with the letter “E.” The words were: Explore. Experiment. Exhilaration. Experience. Enjoy.

“He looked at those words and asked: What am I going to do today to accomplish that?” she said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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