Waterford Town Clerk's office to change hands after 24 years
Waterford — Twenty-four years ago, Robert Nye was a 47-year old carpenter and former teacher who thought he might like being Waterford's town clerk.
Nye had returned from three years of teaching history in Greece to find that teacher's jobs were few and far between. Then he worked as a carpenter for 10 years.
In 1991 Thomas "Tony" Sheridan, who would go on to become Waterford's first selectman, asked him to run for town clerk.
"It kind of ties in with my interest in history," Nye said in an interview at Town Hall Monday. "The teaching, history, the carpentry ... it just all kind of came together as town clerk. (It was) just this nice marriage of my previous experience."
He won the seat that year on the Democratic ticket, unseating Calvin Brouwer, who had worked in Waterford for nearly a decade and went on to become the town clerk in Ledyard until 2012.
Since 1993, Nye has also been the town historian, collecting an internal encyclopedia of knowledge about his adopted hometown and fastidiously maintaining the town's records.
"I ended up just being a source of information myself," he said.
Nye, a New London native who signs his name with a loopy, cursive "Bob," fought off Republican challengers for the town clerk seat every four years. None of them won — he even beat one person twice.
He didn't think this year would be any different.
Nye, 71, used the same style of yard signs that worked just fine in 1991 and every election since then. He didn't go door to door soliciting votes — it didn't seem necessary.
"In hindsight, I probably over-relied on having been here — on having a certain level of name recognition," he said.
His challenger, David Campo, appealed to busy young parents and Facebook users, telling them he plans to make more of the clerk's office's services available online.
"You know, it's a different demographic," Nye said. "And he got them out to vote, and that's to his credit. I compliment him on that."
Campo, 43, said he had considered running several years ago. This year, when friends asked him to run on the Republican ticket, he threw himself into the process.
He went door to door, accumulated 158 likes on his Facebook page and covered Waterford in lawn signs.
But it wasn't until Nye saw the ticker tape with the voting results at Waterford Town Hall, the town's biggest polling place, that he realized he might lose.
Nye lost, with 2,215 votes to Campo's 2,496.
"I was fortunate for 24 years," he said Monday. "It was a good run."
Campo said he realizes he has a lot to learn, especially filling Nye's shoes.
"I want to thank Mr. Nye for his years of service," he said. "He's always been a gentleman. He's an institution in the town, and it's an honor to follow in his footsteps."
Michael Bekech, the Waterford assessor, who has worked across the hall from the clerk's office for 19 years, said Nye will take with him valuable institutional knowledge when he leaves office in January.
The town clerk helps title searchers establish the history of Waterford properties, sometimes going back hundreds of years. The office handles dog licenses, death and marriage certificates, mortgages and meeting minutes.
Most of the information is on paper in the vault behind the clerk's office.
A lot of it is also inside Bob Nye's head.
"He has a great deal of knowledge and experience that we're going to be missing," Beckech said. "The new person will come in and they will gain that, over a period of time. But it's certainly going to be a void for us."
Nye said he has tried to make the clerk's office a place where people can reliably get an answer to their question, no matter what it is.
"There's this sort of understanding that, if you want to find something out, call the town clerk's office," he said. "There is a personal level to it all, and I think that's one of the reasons it's been enjoyable."
Nye will continue working through the end of December, finishing up reports from the election and work on vital records preservation project, clearing out his office and "making lists."
He doesn't take Campo's win personally, he said. And he wants to make sure his successor comes into the job on the right foot.
"I wish him well," he said. "I'm disappointed, but I wish him well."
A week after the election on Veterans Day, while Town Hall was closed, Nye went in to work to organize files and start to ready the office to hand over to Campo.
"If he's going to come in green, it would be good to get some of this stuff laid out," he said. "It's going to be overwhelming enough, because there are just so many responsibilities."
Nye has another year left in his term as the town historian, a position appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
He has a number of projects in the works, including getting a new historic district in Waterford named to the National Register of Historic Places and drumming up support for the restoration of more than 20 abandoned cemeteries.
But, come January, his office will have a new face in it for the first time in 24 years.
"We're going to miss him as a friend, an employee and as a town clerk in a lot of different ways," Bekech said.
But, he added, "it's part of working in government. Things change, and then they change again."
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