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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Lynch, exiting, leaves behind sad, supportive people

Outgoing governor John Lynch looks at an image on the phone of Senator Jeb Bradley on the first day of the legislative session;  Wednesday, January 2, 2013. 
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Outgoing governor John Lynch looks at an image on the phone of Senator Jeb Bradley on the first day of the legislative session; Wednesday, January 2, 2013. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

The two secretaries, watching from their desks down the hallway, saw a revealing snapshot last Friday.

How perfect, they thought, that the governor was helping his staff pack up his office after eight years on the job. How fitting, they knew, that the governor wore a sweatshirt while he worked.

And finally, how sad, they felt, that the man who interrupted high level meetings to greet fourth-graders, who gave tourists directions to the cafeteria, who never believed he was better than anyone else at the State House, who governed with the coolness of a closer entering the game with a one-run lead in the ninth inning, was riding off into the sunset.

“It was very sad watching him move his stuff out,” said Paula Penney, who works in Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office, about 30 feet away from Lynch’s office. “They were packing and he was helping out, lugging out the pictures. I’m going to miss him. It’s been a long time.”

This has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with left or right or center or the space between the aisles, often as wide and nasty as a crock-filled moat.

This has to do with John Lynch, his demeanor, his kindness, his roll-up-your-sleeves-

and-get-to-work attitude that marked his four terms in office.

By time you read this, Lynch may already be gone, replaced by Maggie Hassan. Or maybe you’re reading before noon, the start of the new governor’s inauguration ceremony.

Either way, it will be strange viewing Lynch as just another citizen, after he essentially became part of the state’s landscape, the longest serving governor in two centuries.

Then again, Lynch has come across as a regular Joe right from the start.

“He’s exactly the way everybody sees him,” said Ellen Dube, the other secretary who watched Lynch pack boxes. “On Friday morning, everybody that came by said, ‘Oh, that’s so sad to see him leaving.’ ”

Dube, a 20-year veteran at the State House, has seen a lot of Lynch the past eight years. He’d come by to see Gardner, a good friend. He’d pass by on his way to the nearby men’s room. Or maybe he’d merely poke his head in, say hi, or wave.

He certainly made it his business to enter the office that day two years ago, when Dube’s grandson, Simon, then 2½, came by for a visit.

“The governor saw us, and whenever he saw children he ran toward them,” Dube said. “He came in and immediately asked, ‘Who’s this?’ He would talk to him and hold him up to drink from the fountain. We got pictures of Simon with the governor. If there was a meeting and he saw the kids, he says, ‘Excuse me, I have to go now.’ He’d interrupt any meeting for the fourth-graders.”

Fourth-grade students tour the State House two or three times daily during school months as part of their regular curriculum. Their routine became Lynch’s routine.

Virginia Drew, director at the visitors’ center the past 13 years, was hesitant to comment, worried about revealing her political views. But when it comes to Lynch, politics take a back seat to humanity. So Drew, her eyes smiling, said, “He liked to quiz (the students) on their knowledge of state symbols. The state fruit . . . the state dog, the state beverage.”

And then, as though to reinforce the governor’s integrity, his desire to avoid conflict of interest, Drew added, “The state dog is not the governor’s dog, because he has a golden retriever. His dog has been very upset about that.”

Lynch’s soft touch could be seen in other areas as well, like while consoling families of police officers killed in the line of duty. But the Legislature and others learned about Lynch’s leadership skills as well.

Chris Pope has seen a lot of tense times, as Concord’s fire chief, as a paramedic and, since 2006, as the state’s first director of homeland security and emergency management, a post he’s leaving today.

He’s had to coordinate efforts during flooding and deadly tornadoes and power outages. He’s seen the governor in action.

“He’s the best public safety leader I’ve worked for, and I’ve been in public safety for 35 years,” Pope said yesterday in the State House gift shop. “And there is no close second. I’ve seen a lot of people who have to make decisions in the heat of battle, and some are good at it and a lot of people aren’t good at it. He happens to be one of those people who is calm under fire.”

Through it all, Lynch never lost touch with you, the people he’d see during Market Days or at other places downtown. Sometimes a staff member would grab lunch for the boss at the Eagle Square Deli. Now and then, the governor would go himself, and he’d ask the workers there to visit him across the street.

“He gave my kids a personal tour,” said Dani Bourque, who’s worked at the deli for three years. “Now when we drive by, my kids ask, ‘Can we stop and see the governor?’ They think they’re best friends.”

Lynch once gave Eagle Square owner Peter Silvestro an award for his tuna sandwich. Lynch couldn’t make it over yesterday, but Silvestro knew the historical significance of the sandwich he sold at 11:50 a.m.

“His staff was just in here,” Silvestro said. “I asked if this was the governor’s last tuna sandwich and they said yep. He had something special, and we will miss him. Hopefully he’ll come back in as a civilian for his tuna sandwich.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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