O’Brien to Retire from Haverhill City Council After a Tenure Bookended by National and Local Crises

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News)

Councilors Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and William J. Macek, who is also retiring from the City Council, at WHAV in 2018.

Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien is not on the Haverhill ballot this year after two decades as a city Councilor—a tenure bookended by national crises—the attacks of 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Brien campaigned for City Council during the uncertain times surrounding the hijacking of four airplanes by Al-Qaeda that were used in attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. She was also personally familiar with a simultaneous local crisis—the failure of the city-owned Hale Hospital, where she worked as a nurse. The events influenced her governing once she was elected that fall.

Among her proudest achievements, she told WHAV, is the redevelopment of abandoned factories downtown into new housing and retail spaces, which she called “a quality of life” issue.

“I’m so proud now when I drive downtown, especially Merrimack Street, Washington Street area, Essex Street, Wingate, Granite, even into Lafayette Square, we’re starting to see changes. I know that I was a part of all that. I know that I had a hand in all these things that have made Haverhill a better place to live,” she said.

She noted the city learned a lesson from the days when it demolished downtown buildings. “Just the other day, I was in Washington Square and I looked over at the old Haverhill Music building and it looked so beautiful and, I just said, there’s another piece of history that we saved,” O’Brien explained.

She credits her father, the late Edmond W. Daly, with her approach to the issues. He advised her to “make your point, support your point and then stop talking.”

She also credits her training and experience as a nurse in weighing issues, making decisions and giving candid answers. “I have had to handle a lot of very sensitive situations in my nursing career. Nothing in city government will ever come close to what I experienced as a nurse,” she said.

Those honest responses, however, were not always well received by the public. She lamented society’s growing lack of respect and politeness.

“They feel that they can speak to us in a certain tone that really is so disrespectful, and they would not like it if I went to their place of business and acted in that way,” she explained.

It’s an aspect of public life, O’Brien said she won’t miss. She pointed to examples stemming from the sale of Bradford College and saving Haverhill High School. In the former example, she noted, Bradford College’s closing came at the hands of its private trustees—not the city. Even though, it was, in her words, a “passionate, divisive issue.”

O’Brien, who also recently retired as a nurse, said she has been sensitive to issues of equality and advocated for human rights. “Women were as much a victim of not being treated equally as just about any other culture or skin color or religion or sexual preference,” she said.

She explained she and her husband Tom may have also been influenced by raising four daughters, Elizabeth, Julia, Shannon and Bridget.

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