While those elected to Haverhill’s two major boards have come and gone over the years, smooth operation was maintained behind the scenes thanks to the efforts of two women who have kept track of the tiniest details.
Haverhill School Committee Executive Assistant Beverly A. Cassano is retiring this month after nearly 40 years and Haverhill City Council Secretary Barbara S. Arthur retires in May after 25 years. They are both leaving in place systems to help keep the continuity.
Cassano worked for many of the city’s legendary names, beginning as a clerk in 1982 under school Superintendent Warren E. Thuotte and where she was mentored by former Business Manager Nancy Paszko and co-worker Diana Melendy. She went on to work under Superintendents Thomas Fowler-Finn, Fritz Esch, Arthur Tate, Raleigh Buchanan, James Scully and Margaret Marotta as well as interim Superintendents John Phelan, Michael Wrenn and Gerald Quatrale.
Cassano said one highlight of her career came when she was nominated as the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce’s employee of the year. At the event, Sen. John F. Kerry presented her with Congressional recognition. Cassano thanks former Superintendent Tate for her nomination.
“I worked for him for five years. He was one of the best, best superintendents that I ever worked for. We just had a really great working relationship,” she said.
Although she came to work for the school system during the budget-cutting aftermath of the tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½, Cassano has also endured her share of work crises, especially after the failure of the city-owned Hale Hospital that resulted in mass layoffs.
“We had some terrible budget years. During Dr. Tate’s years, we cut millions from the budget. It was very depressing. We lost a lot of good people,” she remembers.
There were also personal losses following the untimely deaths of such co-workers as Sally Ryan and Kathy McAninch.
The good days included investments in education such as the construction of four new schools and substantial reconstruction of a fifth during the administration of Mayor James A. Rurak.
That’s where Arthur comes in. She was first hired by the city in 1996 as grants coordinator in the Planning Department under Economic and Planning Director Mark Andrews. Following the retirement of Claire Gately, she went to work as Rurak’s office manager.
When the mayor chose not seek re-election, Arthur went to work part-time in administration at the Haverhill Fire Department before “filling in” as city council secretary in March 2003. In perhaps one of her more awkward periods in the job came when then-City Council President Michael J. Bresnahan and Councilor James J. Fiorentini were both running for mayor. In time, Arthur worked for both.
“After I came up here, I never left this office, but I do help out one day a week in the mayor’s office,” she explained.
She said she’ll miss the friendships, but admits she is quite content not to have to prepare for Tuesday night City Council meetings. Arthur was going to retire last year in hopes of traveling, but put it off when the pandemic hit.
“What’s interesting is how time flies. Really, when you think about it, it’s hard to comprehend that that kind of time has just gone by,” Arthur said.
The coronavirus outbreak also had an impact on Cassano.
“The pandemic changed my focus. It made me realize that you should enjoy life as much as you can. We’ve given up a lot in terms of our families, our social interactions and the people we love,” she said.