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Former Grafton County Official and Frequent Candidate Bill Sharp Dies at 76

  • Grafton County Register of Deeds Bill Sharp stands at the polls in West Lebanon, N.H. during primary voting in 2008. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • Register of Deeds Bill Sharp speaks during a meeting of the Grafton County Delegation Executive Committee yesterday at the Grafton County Complex in North Haverhill, N.H. on July, 9, 2008. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lebanon — Bill Sharp, a colorful bandleader who helped modernize access to land records in Grafton County while also making mischief with its politics, died on Saturday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He was 76 and suffered from congestive heart failure, according to his brother Philip Sharp.

A sometime music instructor who also led the Mad Bavarian Brass Band, Sharp ran for Grafton County register of deeds as a Democrat in 2006 but didn’t bother to campaign. He nonetheless managed to defeat the Republican incumbent as part of a Democratic landslide in New Hampshire that year, fueled in large part by opposition to the war in Iraq.

As register of deeds, a job that paid about $56,000 at the time, Sharp oversaw an office that maintains records of property ownership and land transactions, and he soon dubbed himself the “Register of Good Deeds.” He helped move the office’s records to a digital database, scrapping a filing system based on index cards, and along with other registers of deeds in the state also made land records available via the internet, saving the public from having to drive to the county offices in North Haverhill.

He also proved himself to be a lively, combative quote.

“ ‘He’s too friendly,’ ” Sharp said of his critics’ complaint about his “Good Deeds” slogan. “I love it. ‘Bill Sharp’s too friendly. He’s too much of a nice guy, so we want him to finish last.’ ”

In 2008, he encouraged Vanessa Sievers, a 20-year-old Dartmouth College junior from Montana, to run for Grafton County treasurer against a longtime Republican incumbent. Sievers used Facebook ads to target voters at Dartmouth and Plymouth State University and won the office as part of the Obama wave. But her work as treasurer was criticized — she often sent emails to fellow county officials rather than attending meetings and drove an SUV with Montana plates to sign paychecks for county workers, helping stir resentment among Republicans about the influence of college students from out-of-state in New Hampshire elections.

Sharp himself drew criticism for often only being in the office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and a Valley News reporter once caught him napping at his desk, which he attributed to sleep apnea. Nonetheless, he handily won re-election in 2008, and when reached for comment on his cellphone around 3:45 p.m. two days after the Tuesday election, made no secret that he was taking the call at The Cave, a sports bar in downtown Lebanon.

But he clashed with county and Democratic officials, and lost in a 2010 primary to Kelley Monahan, an Orford resident who has served as register of deeds ever since. In fact, Sharp is the lone Republican on the ballot for the seat in the Sept. 11 election. County Republicans said it was too soon after his death to discuss whether he would or could be replaced on the ballot.

Sharp repeatedly made unfounded claims against Monahan, but she took the high road about his death in a statement on Tuesday, saying she was a “better person” for having known him.

“He was a wily opponent who taught me how to keep my cool and sharpen my skills,” Monahan said via email. “He was a very talented musician and band leader but was also dedicated to the protection of the historic records at the Grafton County Registry of Deeds, and under New Hampshire law, that is the only duty of the office. He left a legacy of treating the public in a helpful and friendly manner which has been carried on under my leadership.”

Lebanon Republican Mike Balog, a friend who also knew Sharp from the First Baptist Church in Lebanon, said Sharp was a “very remarkable man” who could play instruments ranging from an accordion to a trombone to a banjo, and also debate knowledgeably.

“He could sit there for hours and debate the issues for hours at hand, without losing the core idea of what the principle was that they were discussing,” said Balog, who is running for a New Hampshire House seat.

Sharp became a Republican after his defeat in 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for several offices, moving to the right in his rhetoric. He wrote a letter to the editor about the dangers of Sharia law and claimed that Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. (The former president’s birth certificate proves he was born in Hawaii.) Sharp ran unsuccessfully for the Lebanon School Board in March, arguing at the time for increased drug sweeps and supporting the idea of arming teachers.

It was a marked change from his roots as the son of a Methodist minister, and his start in politics attending the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Born in Groveton, N.H., Sharp, who had three siblings, lived in Canaan for six years, where his father, the Rev. Robert Sharp, was a minister. Sharp finished high school in Illinois and graduated in 1965 from what is now known as Illinois State University.

Sharp was divorced and had no children. Philip Sharp, a Bradford, Vt., resident, who was two years older, said his younger brother liked to be “on stage.”

“All of his life, he wanted to be the leader of the band, whatever it was, the leader of whatever game it was,” said Philip Sharp, a former Head Start teacher who is a licensed clinical mental health counselor.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete, but Philip Sharp said his brother made a place for himself in Lebanon.

“He found himself, between the band and the church down there, a life for himself, and a community of loving friends who knew him both for his strengths and weaknesses, and loved him anyway, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said.

News staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.