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Orono town clerk of 40 years to retire; town plans reception

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Orono Town Clerk Wanda Thomas poses for a portrait in the middle of the town office on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Thomas will be retiring after 43 years of service to the community. She says she has no immediate plans but wants to check out the activities and people at the Hammond Street Senior Center in Bangor soon.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — In the first election Wanda Thomas oversaw as Orono’s town clerk in 1972, Richard Nixon soundly defeated George McGovern and John Schmitz, drawing 520 of the 537 electoral votes to win the presidency.

In 2008, Barack Obama won out over John McCain in what Thomas said would be her last presidential election.

After 43 years working for the town of Orono, Thomas is retiring. Her last day will be Aug. 3.

Tuesday, which happened to be the anniversary of her first day at work in Orono, Thomas, 74, said she has enjoyed serving the town, but that it was time to step aside and let someone else take over.

The town will host a retirement reception for the outgoing clerk, tax collector and treasurer from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Orono Town Council Chambers. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Thomas first got a job with the town in 1969 working as deputy clerk for Orono’s then-clerk Esther Willard, a friend of Thomas’ mother-in-law.

When Willard suffered a hip injury in 1972, Thomas moved up to fill in — one week before the presidential election.

She has been at that post ever since. During those 40 years as clerk, Thomas has seen nine different town managers, served as interim town manager four times, and been asked if she would like to manage the town several times.

“That really did not interest me,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the advent of the computer was one of the biggest changes she saw in her career. When she started, if a councilor wanted to change a word in an ordinance, she would have to type the entire ordinance again — in duplicate.

As far as what she plans to do in retirement, “that’s the scary part, that’s the part I don’t know,” Thomas said.

“I enjoy golf,” Thomas said. “But I lost my golfing partner when she moved away on me.”

Thomas, an active member of the United Methodist Church in Orono and the Orono-Old Town Kiwanis Club, said she will stay active, garden and spend time with her 96-year-old mother.

Town Manager Sophie Wilson said Tuesday that because of Thomas’ institutional knowledge about the town, she has been “the glue that holds the administration together.”

“The town is approaching Wanda’s retirement with mixed feelings,” Wilson said. “On the one hand, she will be greatly missed and it will be a transition for us to fill the gap that she will leave. However, we’re also very appreciative of the time that she has given and know that she is looking forward to retirement and we wish her all the best.”

Donna Emerson, an assistant clerk, will become Orono’s new town clerk. Annie Brown, now the town’s finance director, will become the tax collector and treasurer.

Thomas likely will be called in during the weeks and months after her retirement and assist in the transition. She said she won’t be a stranger to the town office she has spent the past four decades in.

“I’ll be sad to go,” Thomas said. “But, like I said, it’s time.”

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